The Chengjiang Biota


Cricocosmia jinningensis
Cricocosmia jinningensis, a two millimeter-wide worm from the Chengjiang sediments in the Yunnan Province, China. Credit: Derek Siveter
The Chengjiang biota was discovered by Hou Xiang-guang in 1984 and is famous for exceptional preservation of a host of exquisitely preserved soft-bodied organisms. The 525 Ma deposit is located in Yunnan Province, China and contributes fundamentally to our understanding of one of the most important evolutionary episodes in the Phanerozoic – the Cambrian evolutionary  ‘explosion’. Well over 200 species across at least 16 phyla have been recognised in the Chengjiang biota and most are exclusive to this deposit.

I have visited the field localities of the Chengjiang biota on several occasions and worked with Chinese colleagues at the Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology (Yunnan University) on their incredible fossil collections. My research on this Lagerstȁtte has mainly involved investigation of the taphonomy of the fossils and the sedimentology and geochemistry of the host shale. I also undertake work to interpret anatomy, affinity and ecology of fossils from the Chengjiang.

The Team

I am a member of an extensive team of scientists principally from China and the UK. Based in China at the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology, Yunnan University, Kunming are: Professor Hou Xianguang, Dr Cong Peiyun, Dr Qi Changshi. Based in the UK are: at the University of Leicester, Professor David Siveter, Professor Mark Williams, Dr Sarah Gabbott and Professor Mark Purnell; at the University of Oxford is Professor Derek Siveter, and at the Natural History Museum is Dr Ma Xiaoya. I also work with Dr Robert Gaines who is based at Pomona College, USA.


Xianguang Hou, Williams, M., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J., Gabbott, S.E., Holwell, D. and Harvey, T.H.P. (2014). A chancelloriid-like metazoan from the early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte, China. Scientific Reports, 4, 7340. doi:10.1038/srep07340

Gaines, R.R., Emma U. Hammarlund, E.U., Xianguang Hou, Changshi Qie, Gabbott, S.E., Yuanlong Zhaog, Jin Pengg, and Canfield, D.E. (2012). Mechanism for Burgess Shale-type preservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 109, E1902.

Gaines, R.R., Hammarlund, E.U., Hou, X.G., Qi, C., Gabbott, S.E., Zhao, Y.L., Peng, J., and Canfield, D.E., 2012, Reply to Butterfield: Low-sulfate and early cements inhibit decay and promote Burgess Shale-type preservationProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA v. 109, E1902.

Ma, X., Hou, X., Aldridge, R. J., Siveter, D. J., Siveter, D. J., Gabbott, S. E., Edgecombe, G. D. (2012). Morphology of Cambrian lobopodian eyes from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte and their evolutionary significance. Arthropod Structure & Development. doi:10.1016/j.asd.2012.03.002

Aldridge, R. J., Hou, X. G., Siveter, D. J., Siveter, D. J., & Gabbott, S. E. (2007). The Systematics and phylogenetic relationships of vetulicolians. Palaeontology, 50(1), 131-168. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2006.00606.x

Gabbott., S. E., Norry., J, M., Hou., Xian-guang., Siveter, D. J. (2004). Preservation of Lower Cambrian animals of the Chengjiang biota. Geology, 32(10), 901-904. doi:10.1130/G20640.1

My Funding

2015: Chinese Scholarship Council awarded to Changshi Qi and Gabbott to fund a year’s post-doctoral research for Changshi Qi to work on the sedimentology and geochemistry of the Cambrian Chengjiang with Gabbott. £15,000.

2015: Chinese Scholarship Council awarded to Yujing Li to fund 2 years PhD research for Yujing Li to work on the vetulicolians of the Cambrian Chengjiang with Sarah Gabbott.

2004: Royal Society Small Research Grant ‘The preservation and palaeobiology of Cambrian animals’ to fund collaborative work in China on the Chengjiang biota, and visits by Chinese colleagues to UK. Co-investigator (with David Siveter).

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