Recently, in the New York Times, Carroll published an article titled Translating Stories of Life Forms Etched in Stone about the impact of the Ediacaran fossils. He chronicles the thought surrounding these fossils, starting with Darwin's dilemma of a lack of fossils before the Cambrian, through the discovery of the first Ediacaran fossils to modern views surrounding the fossils. There's some interesting information in the article, I particularly like the mention that Andrew Knoll likens the Ediacarans to a Rorschach test, as everyone interprets them differently. Reading through the article though and it seems Sean Carroll, who is not a palaeontologist (so I wonder why he wrote this article), favours the shoehorning interpretations of Gehling. The first clue can be seen in the image which accompanies the article:
slideshow with some incredible photos. The first is a small and beautiful Dickinsonia from the Ediacara Hills, chosen because it is mentioned in the article and maybe also because it looks superficially like many extant forms. Also from Australia is Spriggina, another which is iconic of the Ediacaran forms and is often thought to be related to modern forms (despite the difference in symmetry). Next is Archaeaspinus from the White Sea in Russia, a form which is often labelled as from the group proarticulata, a proposed phylum which also includes the two previous organisms. These are often linked with the chordates, an interpretation which would likely please Carroll.
Next in line on the slideshow is Fractofusus from Mistaken Point in Newfoundland, a spindle-like fossil which would be difficult to shoehorn into modern groups. Kimberella comes next and was mentioned in the article, this one is from Russia. This fossil has often been considered to be a possible mollusc and potential radula marks have been found around the fossils. Following Kimberella is Charniodiscus, this one from Newfoundland and curiously the image is upside down. Charniodiscus is an interesting frond fossil which is sometimes linked to the sea pens. A favourite of mine follows, Parvancorina, from Australia, a shield like fossil which can be tentatively linked to the trilobites. The final image is Yorgia from Russia and is often linked to the proarticulata. Anyway, back to the article.
The first hint of Sean Carroll's chosen interpretation comes subtly in the following sentence:
Dickinsonia, for example, has been interpreted as being a relative of jellyfish, a marine worm, a lichen, or even as a member of a completely extinct kingdom.
The concept of the Vendobionts is not an unpopular one as this phrasing might suggest. Carroll makes it sound like an extreme view. His view becomes more obvious soon enough, as he says, "But, in fact, such simple bodies are exactly what should be expected of primitive forerunners of later animals." He says this in relation to the lack of features which we use to identify extant phyla today and in that I agree with him, however, he must also ignore the features found in some Ediacaran forms which exclude them from known phyla. He also states that a few bilateral forms are known and gives Kimberella as an example, but it is not clear whether or not he takes into account that many display glide symmetry and not typical bilateral symmetry; Kimberella is one of the few which seems to actually be bilateral.
Carroll then goes on to explain why these multicellular forms took so long to appear and does a good job, but then ends by saying, "Our earliest animal ancestor probably had no head, tail, or sexual organs, and lay immobile on the sea floor like a door mat."
Overall the article is a good read and quite informative. It is odd that it is written by a geneticist and not a palaeontologist, but Carroll does not get things wrong, he simply puts his own slant on things, a slant which is shared by many palaeontologists. It would be interesting to see what a palaeontologist like Seilacher would think of the article.