The Evolutionary History of the Animal Kingdom

Free Response

Briefly describe at least two theories that attempt to explain the cause of the Cambrian explosion.


One theory states that environmental factors led to the Cambrian explosion. For example, the rise in atmospheric oxygen and oceanic calcium levels helped to provide the right environmental conditions to allow such a rapid evolution of new animal phyla. Another theory states that ecological factors such as competitive pressures and predator-prey relationships reached a threshold that supported the rapid animal evolution that took place during the Cambrian period.

How is it that most, if not all, of the extant animal phyla today evolved during the Cambrian period if so many massive extinction events have taken place since then?


It is true that multiple mass extinction events have taken place since the Cambrian period, when most currently existing animal phyla appeared, and the majority of animal species were commonly wiped out during these events. However, a small number of animal species representing each phylum were usually able to survive each extinction event, allowing the phylum to continue to evolve rather than become altogether extinct.