Nature 437, 137-140 (1 September 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03893; Received 24 February 2005; Accepted 6 June 2005

The axial skeleton of the Devonian tetrapod Ichthyostega

Per Erik Ahlberg1, Jennifer A. Clack2 & Henning Blom1,2

  1. Subdepartment of Evolutionary Organismal Biology, Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18A, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
  2. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

Correspondence to: Per Erik Ahlberg1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to P.E.A. (Email: per.ahlberg@ebc.uu.se).

Ichthyostega was the first Devonian tetrapod to be subject to a whole-body reconstruction1, 2, 3. It remains, together with Acanthostega 4, one of only two Devonian tetrapods for which near-complete postcranial material is available. It is thus crucially important for our understanding of the earliest stages of tetrapod evolution and terrestrialization. Here we show a new reconstruction of Ichthyostega based on extensive re-examination of original material and augmented by recently collected specimens. Our reconstruction differs substantially from those previously published and reveals hitherto unrecognized regionalization in the vertebral column. Ichthyostega is the earliest vertebrate to show obvious adaptations for non-swimming locomotion. Uniquely among early tetrapods, the presacral vertebral column shows pronounced regionalization of neural arch morphology, suggesting that it was adapted for dorsoventral rather than lateral flexion.


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