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, 439 (7074), 318-21

Tetrapod-like Middle Ear Architecture in a Devonian Fish

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Tetrapod-like Middle Ear Architecture in a Devonian Fish

Martin D Brazeau et al. Nature.

Abstract

Few fossils show the incipient stages of complex morphological transformations. For example, the earliest stages in the remodelling of the spiracular tract and suspensorium (jaw suspension) of osteolepiform fishes into the middle ear of tetrapods have remained elusive. The most primitive known tetrapods show a middle ear architecture that is very different from osteolepiforms such as Eusthenopteron, with little indication of how this transformation took place. Here we present an analysis of tetrapod middle ear origins that is based on a detailed study of Panderichthys, the immediate sister taxon of tetrapods. We show that the spiracular region is radically transformed from osteolepiforms and represents the earliest stages in the origin of the tetrapod middle ear architecture. The posterior palatoquadrate of Panderichthys is completely tetrapod-like and defines a similarly tetrapod-like spiracular tract. The hyomandibula has lost its distal portion, representing a previously unrecognized advance towards a stapes-like morphology. This spiracular specialization suggests that the middle ear of early tetrapods evolved initially as part of a spiracular breathing apparatus.

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