The oldest articulated osteichthyan reveals mosaic gnathostome characters


The evolutionary history of osteichthyans (bony fishes plus tetrapods) extends back to the Ludlow epoch of the Silurian period. However, these Silurian forms have been documented exclusively by fragmentary fossils. Here we report the discovery of an exceptionally preserved primitive fish from the Ludlow of Yunnan, China, that represents the oldest near-complete gnathostome (jawed vertebrate). The postcranial skeleton of this fish includes a primitive pectoral girdle and median fin spine as in non-osteichthyan gnathostomes, but a derived macromeric squamation as in crown osteichthyans, and substantiates the unexpected mix of postcranial features in basal sarcopterygians, previously restored from the disarticulated remains of Psarolepis. As the oldest articulated sarcopterygian, the new taxon offers insights into the origin and early divergence of osteichthyans, and indicates that the minimum date for the actinopterygian–sarcopterygian split was no later than 419 million years ago.

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Figure 1: Summary Silurian sequence in Qujing (Yunnan, China), showing the stratigraphic positions of Guiyu oneiros gen. et sp. nov. and other bony fishes.
Figure 2: Guiyu oneiros gen. et sp. nov., holotype V15541.
Figure 3: Guiyu oneiros gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 4: Guiyu oneiros gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 5: Timing of earliest evolution of the Osteichthyes.


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We thank M.-M. Chang, P. Janvier, J. Long, P. Ahlberg, X.-B. Yu and B. Choo for discussions, X.-B. Yu and B. Choo for improving the manuscript, J. Zhang and C.-H. Xiong for field work, X.-F. Lu and C.-H. Xiong for specimen preparation, W.-D. Zhang and W. Wang for making thin sections, B. Choo for life restoration, J.-L. Huang for illustrations, and J. Zhang for photography. This work was supported by the Major State Basic Research Projects (2006CB806400) of MST of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the CAS/SAFEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams. M.Z., J.L. and T.Q. thank G. Young and J. Long for the examination of Australian specimens with the support of an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP0772138).

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Correspondence to Min Zhu.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information 1

This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Tables 1-7, Supplementary Figures 1-9 with Legends, Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Data and Supplementary References. (PDF 541 kb)

Supplementary Information 2

This file contains photographs to show morphological details of Guiya. (PDF 2054 kb)

Supplementary Information 3

Life reconstruction was drawn by B. Choo (Victoria Museum) through communication with M.Z. (PDF 270 kb)

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Zhu, M., Zhao, W., Jia, L. et al. The oldest articulated osteichthyan reveals mosaic gnathostome characters. Nature 458, 469–474 (2009).

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