The new study by paleontologists from the University of Chicago, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses CT scanning to examine the shape and structure of fin rays while still encased in surrounding rock. The imaging tools allowed the researchers to construct digital 3D models of the entire fin of the fishapod Tiktaalik roseae and its relatives in the fossil record for the first time. They could then use these models to infer how the fins worked and changed as they evolved into limbs.
Much of the research on fins during this key transitional stage focuses on the large, distinct bones and pieces of cartilage that correspond to those of our upper arm, forearm, wrist, and digits. Known as the "endoskeleton," researchers trace how these bones changed to become recognizable arms, legs and fingers in tetrapods, or four-legged creatures.
Rays - Spines - Fish - Fins - Skeleton
The delicate rays and spines of a fish's fins form a second, no less important "dermal" skeleton, which was also undergoing evolutionary changes in this period. These pieces are often overlooked because they can fall apart when the animals are fossilized or because they are removed intentionally by fossil preparators to reveal the larger bones of the endoskeleton. Dermal rays form most of the surface area of many fish fins but were completely lost in the earliest creatures with limbs.
"We're trying to understand the general trends and evolution of the dermal skeleton before all those other changes happened and fully-fledged limbs evolved," said Thomas Stewart, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher who led the new study. "If you want to understand how animals were evolving to use their fins in this part of history, this is an important data set."
Stewart - Colleagues - Fishes - Features - Tetrapods
Stewart and his colleagues worked with three late Devonian fishes with primitive features of tetrapods: Sauripterus taylori, Eusthenopteron foordi and...
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