Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

A Devonian predatory fish provides insights into the early evolution of modern sarcopterygians

Science Advances  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 6, e1600154
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600154

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Abstract

Crown or modern sarcopterygians (coelacanths, lungfishes, and tetrapods) differ substantially from stem sarcopterygians, such as Guiyu and Psarolepis, and a lack of transitional fossil taxa limits our understanding of the origin of the crown group. The Onychodontiformes, an enigmatic Devonian predatory fish group, seems to have characteristics of both stem and crown sarcopterygians but is difficult to place because of insufficient anatomical information. We describe the new skull material of Qingmenodus, a Pragian (~409-million-year-old) onychodont from China, using high-resolution computed tomography to image internal structures of the braincase. In addition to its remarkable similarities with stem sarcopterygians in the ethmosphenoid portion, Qingmenodus exhibits coelacanth-like neurocranial features in the otic region. A phylogenetic analysis based on a revised data set unambiguously assigns onychodonts to crown sarcopterygians as stem coelacanths. Qingmenodus thus bridges the morphological gap between stem sarcopterygians and coelacanths and helps to illuminate the early evolution and diversification of crown sarcopterygians.

Keywords
  • Sarcopterygians
  • crown sarcopterygians
  • coelacanths
  • evolutionary transition
  • brain cavity
  • neurocranial evolution
  • HRCT
  • phylogeny

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