is a clade
comprising all major animal
groups except sponges
. Characteristics of eumetazoans include true tissues
organized into germ layers
, and an embryo that goes through a gastrula
stage. The clade is usually held to contain at least Ctenophora
, and Bilateria
. Whether mesozoans
belong is in dispute.
Some phylogenists have speculated the sponges and eumetazoans evolved separately from single-celled organisms, which would mean that the animal kingdom does not form a clade (a complete grouping of organisms descended from a common ancestor). However, genetic studies and some morphological characteristics, like the common presence of choanocytes, support a common origin.
Eumetazoans are a major group of animals in the Five Kingdoms classification of Lynn Margulis and K. V. Schwartz, comprising the Radiata and Bilateria - all animals except the sponges, placozoans and mesozoans. When treated as a formal taxon Eumetazoa is typically ranked as a subkingdom. The name Metazoa has also been used to refer to this group, but more often refers to the Animalia as a whole. Many classification schemes do not include a subkingdom Eumetazoa.
Over the last decade, the work of developmental biologists and molecular phylogeneticists spawned new ideas about bilaterian relationships resulting in a paradigm shift.
The current widely accepted hypothesis, based on molecular data (mostly 18S rRNA sequences), divides bilateria into the following four groups: Deuterostomia, Ecdysozoa, Lophotrochozoa, and Platyzoa (sometimes included in Lophotrochozoa). The last three groups are also collectively known as Protostomia.
However, many skeptics emphasize the pitfalls and inconsistencies associated with the new data. Claus Nielsen, a professor of evolutionary invertebrate embryology at the
Zoological Museum University of Copenhagen
champions one of the most prominent alternative views based on morphology evidence. In his 2001 book Animal Evolution: Interrelationships of the Living Phyla, he maintains the traditional divisions of Protostomia and Deuterostomia.
It has been suggested that one type of molecular clock
and one approach to interpretation of the fossil record both place the evolutionary origins of eumetazoa in the Ediacaran
. However, the earliest eumetazoans may not have left a clear impact on the fossil record and other interpretations of molecular clocks suggest the possibility of an earlier origin. The discoverers of Vernanimalcula
describe it as the fossil of a bilateral triploblastic
animal that appeared at the end of the Marinoan
glaciation prior to the Ediacaran
Period, implying an even earlier origin for eumetazoans.
- Bilateria. Tree of Life web project, US National Science Foundation. 2002. 6 January 2006.
- Invertebrates and the Origin of Animal Diversity
- Evers, Christine A., Lisa Starr. Biology:Concepts and Applications. 6th ed. United States:Thomson, 2006. ISBN 0-534-46224-3.
- Metazoa: the Animals
- Nielsen, C. 2001. Animal Evolution: Interrelationships of the Living Phyla, 2nd edition, 563 pp. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-850681-3
- Borchiellini, C. Manuel, M., Alivon, E., Boury-Esnault N., Vacelet, J., Le-Parco, Y. 2001. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 14 (1): 171-179.
- Peterson, Kevin J., McPeek, Mark A., & Evans, David A.D. 2005. Tempo & mode of early animal evolution: inferences from rocks, Hox, & molecular clocks. Paleobiology 31(2, Supplement): 36-55.