After extensively studying the behavior of Tribrachidium, an ancient aquatic life form, via computational fluid dynamics, Bristol-based British scientists determined the complexity of Earth’s first ecosystems greater than previously thought.
Tribrachidium lived roughly 550 million ago, at the bottom of the sea (though not in a pineapple, mind you), and was thought, until recently, to be one of the most simple, yet interesting creatures that lived in the Ediacaran period. It had a flat, disc-shaped body, with three tentacles sprouting symmetrically from it. This gave the creature a tri-radial symmetry not encountered in modern life forms.
Since the creature lived so long ago, only very little data of any importance was collected from the fossils encountered, and scientists were unaware of how the being fed, reproduced or even moved.
However, with the use of computational fluid dynamics, the team of scientists made a 3D model of the creature, as accurately as possible. By taking a mold of the fossil and then scanning it using CT scanning technology, the researchers managed to produce an accurate 3D model, which they then used to find out the creature’s feeding habits.
Using computational fluid dynamics, the team of scientists placed the 3D model in a simulation of its original environment, allowing water currents to flow over the virtual creature just as they did in the shallow waters its real-life counterpart liked to inhabit.
With this method, the researchers were able to find out that the creature was a suspension feeder, meaning that it consumed nutrients dissolved in the water. After the water passed by it, the creature, using its tentacles, recirculated the water around it, allowing it to gather more nutrients than if the water only passed by it once.
This is more information than the scientists ever got regarding the creature, since they still do not know if it could actually move or not, or if the water did its recirculating simply because of the positioning of the Tribrachidium tentacles.
The discovery is very important, since for a long time suspension feeding was thought to be absent in the Ediacaran period, scientists considering creatures contemporary to the Tribrachidium to be too simple for that complex of a feeding mechanism.
This means that most likely Tribrachidium was not the only creature to be more complex than previously though in those by-gone ages, giving scientists new data regarding Earth’s largely undocumented past.
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