Nature 457, 1124-1127 (26 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07732; Received 12 November 2008; Accepted 17 December 2008

Devonian arthrodire embryos and the origin of internal fertilization in vertebrates

John A. Long1,2,3, Kate Trinajstic4 & Zerina Johanson5

  1. Museum Victoria, PO Box 666, Melbourne 3001, Victoria, Australia
  2. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra 2600, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  3. School of Geosciences, Monash University, Clayton 3800, Victoria, Australia
  4. School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Perth 6009, Western Australia, Australia
  5. Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

Correspondence to: John A. Long1,2,3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.A.L. (Email: jlong@museum.vic.gov.au).

Evidence of reproductive biology is extremely rare in the fossil record. Recently the first known embryos were discovered within the Placodermi1, an extinct class of armoured fish, indicating a viviparous mode of reproduction in a vertebrate group outside the crown-group Gnathostomata (Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes). These embryos were found in ptyctodontids, a small group of placoderms phylogenetically basal to the largest group, the Arthrodira2, 3. Here we report the discovery of embryos in the Arthrodira inside specimens of Incisoscutum ritchiei from the Upper Devonian Gogo Formation of Western Australia4 (approximately 380 million years ago), providing the first evidence, to our knowledge, for reproduction using internal fertilization in this diverse group. We show that Incisoscutum and some phyllolepid arthrodires possessed pelvic girdles with long basipterygia that articulated distally with an additional cartilaginous element or series, as in chondrichthyans, indicating that the pelvic fin was used in copulation. As homology between similar pelvic girdle skeletal structures in ptyctodontids, arthrodires and chondrichthyans is difficult to reconcile in the light of current phylogenies of lower gnathostomes2, 3, 5, we explain these similarities as being most likely due to convergence (homoplasy). These new finds confirm that reproduction by internal fertilization and viviparity was much more widespread in the earliest gnathostomes than had been previously appreciated.


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