Why Life Got Big


An exciting new paper from Foundations of Complex Life team members, recently published in Current Biology, offers a novel explanation for why organisms first evolved large size in the Ediacaran Period, 579–565 million years ago. Inspired by a 2009 FCL team retreat and field trip to Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, coauthors David Jacobs, Roger Summons, David Johnston, and Marc Laflamme used models of canopy flow to explain how sticking up into the water column provided rangeomorphs, some of these earliest multicellular organisms preserved at Mistaken Point, a competitive advantage over microbial mats.

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Canopy flow—a process familiar from crops waving in the wind, like the wheat fields depicted by Van Gogh at the top of this post—induces large eddies or vortexes in the flow where faster-flowing current above meets current slowed down by the canopy below. Here’s a video of David Jacobs and his graduate student, David Gold, summarizing the paper in their own words:

The paper can be read here (subscription required), while UCLA has a press release here. The story was also covered by Science Daily.