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The oldest articulated chondrichthyan from the Early Devonian period


Chondrichthyans (including living sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras) have a fossil record of scales and dermal denticles perhaps dating back to the Late Ordovician period, about 455 million years ago1,2. Their fossil tooth record extends to the earliest Devonian period, almost 418 million years ago3, whereas the oldest known articulated shark remains date from the Early Devonian period4, about 394 million years ago5. Here we report the discovery of an articulated shark that is almost 409 million years old5 from the Early Devonian (early Emsian) period of New Brunswick, Canada. The specimen, identified as Doliodus problematicus (Woodward)6, sheds light on the earliest chondrichthyans and their interrelationships with basal jawed vertebrates. This species has been truly problematic7. Previously known only from isolated teeth2,6,8, it has been identified as an acanthodian and a chondrichthyan. This specimen is the oldest shark showing the tooth families in situ, and preserves one of the oldest chondrichthyan braincases. More notably, it shows the presence of paired pectoral fin-spines, previously unknown in cartilaginous fishes.

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Figure 1: Partial articulated shark, Doliodus problematicus (NBMG 10127/1b,2,3).
Figure 2: Neurocranium of Doliodus problematicus (NBMG 10127/4).
Figure 3: Left pectoral fin of Doliodus problematicus (NBMG 10127/3).

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We thank J. McGovern, S. Miller, H. Wilson, the other members of the field team who discovered the specimen and C. Burrow for discussion on acanthodian spines. This research was supported in part by the George Frederic Matthew Research Grant of the New Brunswick Museum (to R.C. and S.T.) and a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (to R.C.).

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Correspondence to Randall F. Miller.

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Miller, R., Cloutier, R. & Turner, S. The oldest articulated chondrichthyan from the Early Devonian period. Nature 425, 501–504 (2003).

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