• Arthropoda;
  • Cambrian;
  • Chengjiang;
  • China;
  • Maotianshan Shale;
  • pelagic

The anatomy of the bivalved arthropod Isoxys (Early and Middle Cambrian) is reconstructed, based on new evidence from soft parts and exoskeletal design and on a critical review of previous work. Isoxys had a long segmented body flanked with a pair of short antennules, followed by a series of 14 biramous appendages provided with long paddle-like exopods concealed under a widely open bivalved carapace folded dorsally and bearing long cardinal spines. The close resemblance between Isoxys and Recent pelagic crustaceans (halocyprid ostracods, larval stages of malacostracans) indicates that Isoxys was probably an active epipelagic swimmer (evidence from soft parts, carapace design and distributional pattern). Some species (e.g. I. auritus and I. paradoxus from the Maotianshan Shale biota; Early Cambrian) may have lived in the vicinity of the bottom either permanently or temporarily, whereas others may have had ecological preferences for more open-marine settings. The spinosity of Isoxys had a possible role in predatorial deterrence rather than in buoyancy control or in retarding sinking within the water column. The presence of Isoxys in the Maotianshan Shale of S. China indicates that arthropods had already colonized midwater niches by the Early Cambrian. The midwater communities of the Maotianshan Shale comprised numerous other invertebrates, such as abundant medusiform eldonids, vetulicolids, chordates and possibly early vertebrates. This contradicts the opinion that pelagic communities remained poorly developed until late Cambrian/Ordovician times and that the occupation of the midwater niches largely post-dates the initial diversification of the benthic faunas.