The pelvic fin and girdle of Panderichthys and the origin of tetrapod locomotion

Abstract

One of the most marked transformations in the vertebrate transition to land was that of fins to limbs. This transformation involved not only the generation of morphological novelties (digits, sacrum) but also a shift in locomotory dominance from the pectoral to the pelvic appendage1. Despite its importance, the transformation from pelvic fin to hindlimb is the least studied and least well-documented part of this transformation, which is bracketed by the osteolepiform Eusthenopteron and the early tetrapods Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, but is not directly illuminated by any intermediate form. Panderichthys is the closest tetrapod relative currently represented by complete fossils2, but its pelvic fin skeleton has not been described. Here, I present the only known articulated pelvic fin endoskeleton and associated partial pelvis of Panderichthys. The pelvic girdle is even less tetrapod-like than that of the osteolepiform Eusthenopteron3, but the pelvic fin endoskeleton shares derived characteristics with basal tetrapods despite being more primitive than the pectoral fin of Panderichthys4,5. The evolution of tetrapod locomotion appears to have passed through a stage of body-flexion propulsion, in which the pelvic fins played a relatively minor anchoring part, before the emergence of hindlimb-powered propulsion in the interval between Panderichthys and Acanthostega.

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Figure 1: Pictures and drawings of Panderichthys rhombolepis, specimen GIT434-1.
Figure 2: Comparison of pectoral and pelvic fins.

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Acknowledgements

I thank E. Mark-Kurik for collecting and allowing access to the specimen; P. E. Ahlberg for discussions; and Vetenskapsrådet for financial support through a grant to P. E. Ahlberg.

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Correspondence to Catherine A. Boisvert.

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Boisvert, C. The pelvic fin and girdle of Panderichthys and the origin of tetrapod locomotion. Nature 438, 1145–1147 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04119

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