Xiphosurid from the Tournaisian (Carboniferous) of Scotland confirms deep origin of Limuloidea.
ABSTRACT: Horseshoe crabs are archetypal marine chelicerates with a fossil record extending from the Lower Ordovician to today. The major horseshoe crab groups are thought to have arisen in the middle to late Palaeozoic. Here we present the oldest known limuloid from the lower Carboniferous (Tournaisian stage, c. 350 million years ago) of Scotland: Albalimulus bottoni gen. et sp. nov. A comprehensive phylogenetic analysis supports the placement of A. bottoni as a representative of the extant family Limulidae and 100 million years older than any other limulid taxon. The use of geometric morphometric analyses corroborate the erection of the new taxon and illustrates the exploitation of morphospace by xiphosurids. This new taxon highlights the complex evolutionary history of xiphosurids and the importance of documenting these unique Palaeozoic individuals.
Project description:A conglomerate bed from the Tournaisian Ballagan Formation of Scotland preserves a rich array of vertebrate and other nonmarine fossils providing an insight into the wider ecosystem and paleoenvironment that existed during this pivotal stage of Earth history. It challenges hypotheses of a long-lasting post-extinction trough following the end-Devonian extinction event. The fauna recovered includes a wide size range of tetrapods, rhizodonts, and dipnoans, from tiny juveniles or small-bodied taxa up to large adults, and more than one taxon of each group is likely. Some fauna, such as actinopterygians and chondrichthyans, are rare as macrofauna but are better represented in the microfossil assemblage. The fauna provides evidence of the largest Carboniferous lungfish ever found. The specimens are preserved in a localized, poorly-sorted conglomerate which was deposited in the deepest part of a river channel, the youngest of a group of channels. In addition to the fossils (micro- and macro-), the conglomerate includes locally-derived clasts of paleosols and other distinctive elements of the surrounding floodplains. Charcoal fragments represent small woody axes and possible larger trunk tissue from arborescent pteridosperms. Preservation of the fossils indicates some aerial exposure prior to transport, with abrasion from rolling. The findings presented here contrast with other published trends in vertebrate size that are used to interpret a reduction in maximum sizes during the Tournaisian. The richness of the fauna runs counter to the assumption of a depauperate nonmarine fauna following the end-Devonian Hangenberg event, and charcoal content highlights the occurrence of fire, with the requisite levels of atmospheric oxygen during that stage.
Project description:The early Palaeozoic Era records the initial biodiversification of the Phanerozoic. The increase in biodiversity involved drastic changes in taxon longevity, and in rates of origination and extinction. Here, we calculate these variables in unprecedented temporal resolution. We find that highly volatile origination and extinction rates are associated with short genus longevities during the Cambrian Period. During the Ordovician and Silurian periods, evolutionary rates were less volatile and genera persisted for increasingly longer intervals. The 90%-genus life expectancy doubled from 5 Myr in the late Cambrian to more than 10 Myr in the Ordovician-Silurian periods. Intervals with widespread ecosystem disruption are associated with short genus longevities during the Cambrian and with exceptionally high longevities during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. The post-Cambrian increase in persistence of genera, therefore, indicates an elevated ability of the changing early Palaeozoic marine ecosystems to sustainably maintain existing genera. This is evidence of a new level of ecosystem resilience which evolved during the Ordovician Period.
Project description:Horseshoe crabs (order Xiphosura) are often referred to as an ancient order of marine chelicerates and have been considered as keystone taxa for the understanding of chelicerate evolution. However, the mitochondrial genome of this order is only available from a single species, Limulus polyphemus. In the present study, we analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from two Asian horseshoe crabs, Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda and Tachypleus tridentatus to offer novel data for the evolutionary relationship within Xiphosura and their position in the chelicerate phylogeny. The mitochondrial genomes of C. rotundicauda (15,033 bp) and T. tridentatus (15,006 bp) encode 13 protein-coding genes, two ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes, and 22 transfer RNA (tRNA) genes. Overall sequences and genome structure of two Asian species were highly similar to that of Limulus polyphemus, though clear differences among three were found in the stem-loop structure of the putative control region. In the phylogenetic analysis with complete mitochondrial genomes of 43 chelicerate species, C. rotundicauda and T. tridentatus were recovered as a monophyly, while L. polyphemus solely formed an independent clade. Xiphosuran species were placed at the basal root of the tree, and major other chelicerate taxa were clustered in a single monophyly, clearly confirming that horseshoe crabs composed an ancestral taxon among chelicerates. By contrast, the phylogenetic tree without the information of Asian horseshoe crabs did not support monophyletic clustering of other chelicerates. In conclusion, our analyses may provide more robust and reliable perspective on the study of evolutionary history for chelicerates than earlier analyses with a single Atlantic species.
Project description:New megafossil and microfossil data indicate four episodes in the diversification of Silurian-Early Carboniferous land plants of South China, a relatively continuous regional record. Plant diversity increased throughout, but the rising curve was punctuated by three major falls. There were peaks of origination in the Ludlow-Pragian, Givetian, late Famennian and Visean and peaks of extinction in the Pragian-Emsian, Givetian and early Tournaisian. Speciation and extinction rates were highest in the Lochkovian-Pragian and became progressively lower in subsequent stages. High correlation coefficients indicate that these events are associated with the availability of land habitat contingent on eustatic variations and increasing numbers of cosmopolitan genera. Meanwhile, proportions of endemic genera declined gradually. Due to less endemism and more migrations, both speciation and species extinction rates reduced. The changes of diversity and the timing of the three extinctions of land plants in South China are similar to those known already from Laurussia. However, the largest events in the Lochkovian-Pragian and subsequent smaller ones have not been seen in the global pattern of plant evolution. These land plant events do not correspond well temporally with those affecting land vertebrates or marine invertebrates. In South China, the diversity curve of land plants is generally opposite to that of marine faunas, showing a strong effect of eustatic variations. The increasing diversity of both land vertebrates and plants was punctuated above the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary, known as Romer's Gap, implying common underlying constraints on macroevolution of land animals and plants.
Project description:Understanding the temporal context of terrestrialization in chelicerates depends on whether terrestrial groups, the traditional Arachnida, have a single origin and whether or not horseshoe crabs are primitively or secondarily marine. Molecular dating on a phylogenomic tree that recovers arachnid monophyly, constrained by 27 rigorously vetted fossil calibrations, estimates that Arachnida originated during the Cambrian or Ordovician. After the common ancestor colonized the land, the main lineages appear to have rapidly radiated in the Cambrian-Ordovician boundary interval, coinciding with high rates of molecular evolution. The highest rates of arachnid diversification are detected between the Permian and Early Cretaceous. A pattern of ancient divergence estimates for terrestrial arthropod groups in the Cambrian while the oldest fossils are Silurian (seen in both myriapods and arachnids) is mirrored in the molecular and fossil records of land plants. We suggest the discrepancy between molecular and fossil evidence for terrestrialization is likely driven by the extreme sparseness of terrestrial sediments in the rock record before the late Silurian.
Project description:Coleoidea (squids and octopuses) comprise all crown group cephalopods except the Nautilida. Coleoids are characterized by internal shell (endocochleate), ink sac and arm hooks, while nautilids lack an ink sac, arm hooks, suckers, and have an external conch (ectocochleate). Differentiating between straight conical conchs (orthocones) of Palaeozoic Coleoidea and other ectocochleates is only possible when rostrum (shell covering the chambered phragmocone) and body chamber are preserved. Here, we provide information on how this internalization might have evolved. We re-examined one of the oldest coleoids, <i>Gordoniconus beargulchensis</i> from the Early Carboniferous of the Bear Gulch Fossil-Lagerstätte (Montana) by synchrotron, various lights and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). This revealed previously unappreciated anatomical details, on which we base evolutionary scenarios of how the internalization and other evolutionary steps in early coleoid evolution proceeded. We suggest that conch internalization happened rather suddenly including early growth stages while the ink sac evolved slightly later.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The earliest fossil evidence of terrestrial animal activity is from the Ordovician, approximately 450 million years ago (Ma). However, there are earlier animal fossils, and most molecular clocks suggest a deep origin of animal phyla in the Precambrian, leaving open the possibility that animals colonized land much earlier than the Ordovician. To further investigate the time of colonization of land by animals, we sequenced two nuclear genes, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and enolase, in representative arthropods and conducted phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses of those and other available DNA and protein sequence data. To assess the robustness of animal molecular clocks, we estimated the deuterostome-arthropod divergence using the arthropod fossil record for calibration and tunicate instead of vertebrate sequences to represent Deuterostomia. Nine nuclear and 15 mitochondrial genes were used in phylogenetic analyses and 61 genes were used in molecular clock analyses. RESULTS: Significant support was found for the unconventional pairing of myriapods (millipedes and centipedes) with chelicerates (spiders, scorpions, horseshoe crabs, etc.) using nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Our estimated time for the divergence of millipedes (Diplopoda) and centipedes (Chilopoda) was 442 +/- 50 Ma, and the divergence of insects and crustaceans was estimated as 666 +/- 58 Ma. Our results also agree with previous studies suggesting a deep divergence (approximately 1100 - 900 Ma) for arthropods and deuterostomes, considerably predating the Cambrian Explosion seen in the animal fossil record. CONCLUSIONS: The consistent support for a close relationship between myriapods and chelicerates, using mitochondrial and nuclear genes and different methods of analysis, suggests that this unexpected result is not an artefact of analysis. We propose the name Myriochelata for this group of animals, which includes many that immobilize prey with venom. Our molecular clock analyses using arthropod fossil calibrations support earlier studies using vertebrate calibrations in finding that deuterostomes and arthropods diverged hundreds of millions of years before the Cambrian explosion. However, our molecular time estimate for the divergence of millipedes and centipedes is close to the divergence time inferred from fossils. This suggests that arthropods may have adapted to the terrestrial environment relatively late in their evolutionary history.
Project description:The vertebrate fossil record of the earliest Carboniferous is notoriously poorly sampled, obscuring a critical interval in vertebrate evolution and diversity. Recent studies of diversity across the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary have proposed a vertebrate mass extinction at the end-Devonian, and recent phylogenies suggest that the origin of the actinopterygian crown may have occurred in the earliest Carboniferous, as part of a broader recovery fauna. However, the data necessary to test this are limited. Here, we describe a partial actinopterygian skull, including diagnostic elements of the posterior braincase, from the Tournaisian Horton Bluff Formation of Blue Beach, Nova Scotia. The braincase surprisingly shows a confluence of characters common in Devonian taxa but absent in Mississippian forms, such as an open spiracular groove; lateral dorsal aortae that pass through open broadly separated, parallel grooves in the ventral otoccipital region, posterior to the articulation of the first infrapharyngobranchial and an intertemporal-supratemporal complex. Phylogenetic analysis places it deep within the actinopterygian stem, among Devonian moythomasiids and mimiids, suggesting more phylogenetically inclusive survivorship of stem group actinopterygians across the end-Devonian mass extinction. With a high lineage survivorship in tetrapods and lungfish across the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary and high vertebrate diversity at Tournaisian localities, this hints at a more gradual turnover between Devonian and Carboniferous vertebrate faunas.
Project description:Long intervals of single geomagnetic polarity (superchrons) reflect geodynamo processes, driven by core-mantle boundary interactions; however, it is not clear what initiates the start and end of superchrons, other than superchrons probably reflect lower heat flow across the core-mantle boundary compared with adjacent intervals. Here geomagnetic polarity timescales, with confidence intervals, are constructed before and following the reverse polarity Kiaman (Carboniferous-Permian) and Moyero (Ordovician) superchrons, providing a window into the geodynamo processes. Similar to the Cretaceous, asymmetry in reversal rates is seen in the Palaeozoic superchrons, but the higher reversal rates imply higher heatflow thresholds for entering the superchron state. Similar to the Cretaceous superchron, unusually long-duration chrons characterize the ?10 Myr interval adjacent to the superchrons, indicating a transitional reversing state to the superchrons. This may relate to a weak pattern in the clustering of chron durations superimposed on the dominant random arrangement of chron durations.
Project description:Horseshoe crabs are classic "living fossils", supposedly slowly evolving, conservative taxa, with a long fossil record back to the Ordovician. The evolution of their exoskeleton is well documented by fossils, but appendage and soft-tissue preservation is extremely rare. Here we analyse details of appendage and soft-tissue preservation in Yunnanolimulus luopingensis, a Middle Triassic (ca. 244 million years old) horseshoe crab from Yunnan Province, SW China. The remarkable preservation of anatomical details including the chelicerae, five pairs of walking appendages, opisthosomal appendages with book gills, muscles, and fine setae permits comparison with extant horseshoe crabs. The close anatomical similarity between the Middle Triassic horseshoe crabs and their recent analogues documents anatomical conservatism for over 240 million years, suggesting persistence of lifestyle. The occurrence of Carcinoscorpius-type claspers on the first and second walking legs in male individuals of Y. luopingensis indicates that simple chelate claspers in males are plesiomorphic for horseshoe crabs, and the bulbous claspers in Tachypleus and Limulus are derived.