Tuesday, March 3, 2009
MARINE BIO: INTRO TO Echinoderms (Phylum: Echinodermata)
Fossil range: Cambrian - present
Echinoderms (Phylum Echinodermata) are a phylum of marine animals (including sea stars). Echinoderms are found at every ocean depth, from the intertidal zone to the abyssal zone. Aside from the problematic Arkarua, the first definitive members of the phylum appeared near the start of the Cambrian period. The phylum contains about 7,000 living species, making it the second-largest grouping of deuterostomes, after the chordates; they are also the largest phylum that has no freshwater or terrestrial representatives. The word derives from the Greek εχινοδέρματα (echinodermata), plural of εχινόδερμα (echinoderma), "spiny skin" and that from εχινός (echinos), "sea-urchin", originally "hedgehog" + δέρμα (derma), "skin". The Echinoderms are important both biologically and geologically: biologically because few other groupings are so abundant in the biotic desert of the deep sea, as well as the shallower oceans, and geologically as their ossified skeletons are major contributors to many limestone formations, and can provide valuable clues as to the geological environment. Further, it is held by some that the radiation of echinoderms was responsible for the Mesozoic revolution of marine life. Two main subdivisions of Echinoderms are traditionally recognised: the more familiar, motile Eleutherozoa, which encompasses the Asteroidea (starfish), Ophiuroidea (brittle stars), Echinoidea (sea urchins and sand dollars) and Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers); and the sessile Pelmatazoa, which consists of the crinoids. Some crinoids, the feather stars, have secondarily re-evolved a free-living lifestyle. A fifth class of Eleutherozoa consisting of just two species, the Concentricycloidea (sea daisies), were recently merged into the Asteroidea. The fossil record contains a host of other classes which do not appear to fall into any extant crown group.