Acanthodes and shark-like conditions in ancestor of modern gnathostomesPublished online on 13. June 2012
Acanthodes and shark-like conditions in the last common ancestor of modern gnathostomes
Samuel P. Davis, John A. Finarelli & Michael I. Coates
Acanthodians, an exclusively Palaeozoic group of fish, are central to a renewed debate on the origin of modern gnathostomes: jawed vertebrates comprising Chondrichthyes (sharks, rays and ratfish) and Osteichthyes (bony fishes and tetrapods). Acanthodian internal anatomy is primarily understood from Acanthodes bronni because it remains the only example preserved in substantial detail, central to which is an ostensibly osteichthyan braincase. For this reason, Acanthodes has become an indispensible component in early gnathostome phylogenies. Here we present a new description of the Acanthodes braincase, yielding new details of external and internal morphology, notably the regions surrounding and within the ear capsule and neurocranial roof. These data contribute to a new reconstruction that, unexpectedly, resembles early chondrichthyan crania. Principal coordinates analysis of a character–taxon matrix including these new data confirms this impression: Acanthodes is quantifiably closer to chondrichthyans than to osteichthyans. However, phylogenetic analysis places Acanthodes on the osteichthyan stem, as part of a well-resolved tree that also recovers acanthodians as stem chondrichthyans and stem gnathostomes. As such, perceived chondrichthyan features of the Acanthodes cranium represent shared primitive conditions for crown group gnathostomes. Moreover, this increasingly detailed picture of early gnathostome evolution highlights ongoing and profound anatomical reorganization of vertebrate crania after the origin of jaws but before the divergence of living clades.
Nature 486, 247–250, doi:10.1038/nature11080