Benthic marine macroalgae or seaweeds are key ecological players in oceans today and have been since the Proterozoic. To date, however, morphological and evolutionary patterns for Precambrian macroalgae have been documented only in rather broad terms. To refine our understanding in this critical interval, we updated a dataset of Proterozoic to early Paleozoic noncalcified macroalgal fossils preserved as macroscopic carbonaceous compressions. The data were analyzed using non-parametric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) and functional-form group (FFG) approaches, in order to characterize morphological and ecological evolutionary patterns of these macroalgae. At the broadest scale, the results show progressive increases in thallus size, morphospace range, and aspects of ecological complexity such as canopy heights, surface area/volume ratios, and functional-form groups through time. These trends, however, are not always monotonous. In particular, significant increases in Proterozoic macroalgal morphological diversity and maximum size appear to have occurred in the Neoproterozoic (Tonian and Ediacaran periods, respectively). Analysis of Ediacaran macroalgal assemblages shows that macroalgae broadly follow the Ediacara-like fossil assemblages, with a significant drop in most studied metrics in the terminal Ediacaran stage (~550–539 Ma). The latter event occurs during the Kotlinian crisis experienced by Ediacara-type macro-organisms, highlighting the possibility that this extinction event during the Ediacaran-Cambrian transition affected both macroalgae and Ediacara-type macro-organisms. Our analysis also confirms an Ordovician increase in the morphological and ecological diversity of macroalgae.
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