New findings in a 400 million-year-old Devonian placoderm shed light on jaw structure and function in basal gnathostomes

Yuzhi Hu, Jing Lu, Gavin C Young
Scientific Reports 2017 August 10, 7 (1): 7813
Arthodire placoderms have been proposed as the sister group of Chinese 'maxillate' placoderms plus all the more crownward gnathostomes. These basal groups provide key information for understanding the early evolution of jaws. Here, we test previous assumptions about placoderm jaw structure and function by using high-resolution computed tomography, digital dissection, and enlarged 3D printouts on a unique articulated 400 million-year-old buchanosteid arthrodire. The upper jaw has a double ethmoid and a palatobasal connection, but no otic connection; the dermal bone attachment for the quadrate is different to other placoderms. A separately ossified cartilage behind the mandibular joint is comparable to the interhyal of osteichthyans. Two articular facets on the braincase associated with the hyomandibular nerve foramen supported a possible epihyal element and a separate opercular cartilage. Reassembling and manipulating 3D printouts demonstrates the limits of jaw kenetics. The new evidence indicates unrecognized similarities in jaw structure between arthrodires and osteichthyans, and will help to clarify the sequence of character acquisition in the evolution of basal gnathostome groups. New details on the hyoid arch will help to reformulate characters that are key in the heated debate of placoderm monophyly or paraphyly.

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