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Concept: Carboniferous


A nautiloid conch containing many disarticulated exoskeletons of Omegops cornelius (Phacopidae, Trilobita) was found in the Upper Devonian Hongguleleng Formation of the northwestern margin of the Junggar Basin, NW China. The similar number of cephala, thoraces and pygidia, unbroken thoraces, explicit exuviae, and lack of other macrofossils in the conch, indicate that at least seven individual trilobites had moulted within the nautiloid living chamber, using the vacant chamber of a dead nautiloid as a communal place for ecdysis. This exuvial strategy manifests cryptic behaviour of trilobites, which may have resulted from the adaptive evolution induced by powerful predation pressure, unstable marine environments, and competition pressure of organisms occupying the same ecological niche in the Devonian period. The unusual presence of several trilobites moulting within a nautiloid conch is possibly associated with social behaviours in face of a serious crisis. New materials in this study open a window for understanding the survival strategy of marine benthic organisms, especially predator-prey interactions and the behavioural ecology of trilobites in the middle Palaeozoic.

Concepts: Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Carboniferous, Ordovician, Trilobite, Devonian, Ecdysis


gen. et sp. nov. is described from the Famennian Worange Point Formation; the holotype is amongst the largest tristichopterids and sarcopterygians documented by semi-articulated remains from the Devonian Period. The new taxon has dentary fangs and premaxillary tusks, features assumed to be derived for large Northern Hemisphere tristichopterids (, , ). It resembles in ornament, but is distinguished by longer proportions of the parietal compared to the post-parietal shield, and numerous differences in shape and proportions of other bones. Several characters (accessory vomers in the palate, submandibulars overlapping ventral jaw margin, scales ornamented with widely-spaced deep grooves) are recorded only in tristichopterids from East Gondwana (Australia-Antarctica). On this evidence gen. nov. is placed in an endemic Gondwanan subfamily Mandageriinae within the Tristichopteridae; it differs from the nominal genotype in its larger size, less pointed skull, shape of the orbits and other skull characters. The hypothesis that tristichopterids evolved in Laurussia and later dispersed into Gondwana, and a derived subgroup of large Late Devonian genera dispersed from Gondwana, is inconsistent with the evidence of the new taxon. Using oldest fossil and most primitive clade criteria the most recent phylogeny resolves South China and Gondwana as areas of origin for all tetrapodomorphs. The immediate outgroup to tristichopterids remains unresolved - either from Greenland as recently proposed, or from Gondwana, earlier suggested to be the sister group to all tristichopterids. Both taxa combine two characters that do not co-occur in other tetrapodomorphs (extratemporal bone in the skull; non-cosmoid round scales with an internal boss). Recently both ‘primitive’ and ‘derived’ tristichopterids have been discovered in the late Middle Devonian of both hemispheres, implying extensive ghost lineages within the group. Resolving their phylogeny and biogeography will depend on a comprehensive new phylogenetic analysis.

Concepts: Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Carboniferous, Devonian


Many lizards can drop a portion of their tail in response to an attack by a predator, a behaviour known as caudal autotomy. The capacity for intravertebral autotomy among modern reptiles suggests that it evolved in the lepidosaur branch of reptilian evolution, because no such vertebral features are known in turtles or crocodilians. Here we present the first detailed evidence of the oldest known case of caudal autotomy, found only among members of the Early Permian captorhinids, a group of ancient reptiles that diversified extensively and gained a near global distribution before the end-Permian  mass extinction event of the Palaeozoic. Histological and SEM evidence show that these early reptiles were the first amniotes that could autotomize their tails, likely as an anti-predatory behaviour. As in modern iguanid lizards, smaller captorhinids were able to drop their tails as juveniles, presumably as a mechanism to evade a predator, whereas larger individuals may have gradually lost this ability. Caudal autotomy in captorhinid reptiles highlights the antiquity of this anti-predator behaviour in a small member of a terrestrial community composed predominantly of larger amphibian and synapsid predators.

Concepts: Reptile, Tetrapod, Synapsid, Lizard, Amniote, Carboniferous, Permian, Anapsid


A palaeosurface with one megatheropod trackway and several theropod tracks and trackways from the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot Formation (Stormberg Group, Karoo Supergroup) in western Lesotho is described. The majority of the theropod tracks are referable to either Eubrontes or Kayentapus based on their morphological characteristics. The larger megatheropod tracks are 57 cm long and have no Southern Hemisphere equivalent. Morphologically, they are more similar to the Early Jurassic Kayentapus, as well as the much younger Upper Cretaceous ichnogenus Irenesauripus, than to other contemporaneous ichnogenera in southern Africa. Herein they have been placed within the ichnogenus Kayentapus and described as a new ichnospecies (Kayentapus ambrokholohali). The tracks are preserved on ripple marked, very fine-grained sandstone of the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot Formation, and thus were made after the end-Triassic mass extinction event (ETE). This new megatheropod trackway site marks the first occurrence of very large carnivorous dinosaurs (estimated body length >8-9 meters) in the Early Jurassic of southern Gondwana, an evolutionary strategy that was repeatedly pursued and amplified in the following ~135 million years, until the next major biotic crisis at the end-Cretaceous.

Concepts: Extinction, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Carboniferous, Extinction event, Triassic, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Jurassic


The current biodiversity crisis encompasses a sixth mass extinction event affecting the entire class of amphibians. The infectious disease chytridiomycosis is considered one of the major drivers of global amphibian population decline and extinction and is thought to be caused by a single species of aquatic fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. However, several amphibian population declines remain unexplained, among them a steep decrease in fire salamander populations (Salamandra salamandra) that has brought this species to the edge of local extinction. Here we isolated and characterized a unique chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov., from this salamander population. This chytrid causes erosive skin disease and rapid mortality in experimentally infected fire salamanders and was present in skin lesions of salamanders found dead during the decline event. Together with the closely related B. dendrobatidis, this taxon forms a well-supported chytridiomycete clade, adapted to vertebrate hosts and highly pathogenic to amphibians. However, the lower thermal growth preference of B. salamandrivorans, compared with B. dendrobatidis, and resistance of midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) to experimental infection with B. salamandrivorans suggest differential niche occupation of the two chytrid fungi.

Concepts: Fungus, Extinction, Amphibian, Frog, Carboniferous, Chytridiomycota, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Decline in amphibian populations


The vertebrate recovery after the end-Permian mass extinction can be approached through the ichnological record, which is much more abundant than body fossils. The late Olenekian (Early Triassic) tetrapod ichnoassemblage of the Catalan Pyrenean Basin is the most complete and diverse of this age from Western Tethys. This extensional basin, composed of several depocenters, was formed in the latest phases of the Variscan orogeny (Pangea breakup) and was infilled by braided and meandering fluvial systems of the red-beds Buntsandstein facies. Abundant and diverse tetrapod ichnites are recorded in these facies, including Prorotodactylus mesaxonichnus isp. nov. (tracks possibly produced by euparkeriids), cf. Rotodactylus, at least two large chirotheriid morphotypes (archosauriform trackmakers), Rhynchosauroides cf. schochardti, two other undetermined Rhynchosauroides forms, an undetermined Morphotype A (archosauromorph trackmakers) and two types of Characichnos isp. (swimming traces, here associated to archosauromorph trackmakers). The Pyrenean ichnoassemblage suggests a relatively homogeneous ichnofaunal composition through the late Early Triassic of Central Pangea, characterized by the presence of Prorotodactylus and Rotodactylus. Small archosauromorph tracks dominate and present a wide distribution through the different fluviatile facies of the Triassic Pyrenean Basin, with large archosaurian footprints being present in a lesser degree. Archosauromorphs radiated and diversified through the Triassic vertebrate recovery, which ultimately lead to the archosaur and dinosaur dominance of the Mesozoic.

Concepts: Dinosaur, Carboniferous, Pyrenees, Triassic, Archosaur, Permian, Archosauromorpha, Devonian


Devonian tetrapods (limbed vertebrates), known from an increasingly large number of localities, have been shown to be mainly aquatic with many primitive features. In contrast, the post-Devonian record is marked by an Early Mississippian temporal gap ranging from the earliest Carboniferous (Tournaisian and early Viséan) to the mid-Viséan. By the mid-Viséan, tetrapods had become effectively terrestrial as attested by the presence of stem amniotes, developed an essentially modern aspect, and given rise to the crown group. Up to now, only two localities have yielded tetrapod specimens from the Tournaisian stage: one in Scotland with a single articulated skeleton and one in Nova Scotia with isolated bones, many of uncertain identity. We announce a series of discoveries of Tournaisian-age localities in Scotland that have yielded a wealth of new tetrapod and arthropod fossils. These include both terrestrial and aquatic forms and new taxa. We conclude that the gap in the fossil record has been an artifact of collection failure.

Concepts: Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Synapsid, Fossil, Paleontology, Amphibian, Carboniferous, Devonian


The end-Permian mass extinction constituted the most devastating biotic crisis of the Phanerozoic. Its aftermath was characterized by harsh marine conditions incorporating volcanically induced oceanic warming, widespread anoxia and acidification. Bio-productivity accordingly experienced marked fluctuations. In particular, low palaeolatitude hard substrate communities from shallow seas fringing Western Pangaea and the Tethyan Realm were extremely impoverished, being dominated by monogeneric colonies of filter-feeding microconchid tubeworms. Here we present the first equivalent field data for Boreal hard substrate assemblages from the earliest Triassic (Induan) of East Greenland. This region bordered a discrete bio-realm situated at mid-high palaeolatitude (>30°N). Nevertheless, hard substrate biotas were compositionally identical to those from elsewhere, with microconchids encrusting Claraia bivalves and algal buildups on the sea floor. Biostratigraphical correlation further shows that Boreal microconchids underwent progressive tube modification and unique taxic diversification concordant with changing habitats over time. We interpret this as a post-extinction recovery and adaptive radiation sequence that mirrored coeval subequatorial faunas, and thus confirms hard substrate ecosystem depletion as a hallmark of the earliest Triassic interval globally.

Concepts: Ecology, Extinction, Dinosaur, Carboniferous, Extinction event, Triassic, Permian, Permian–Triassic extinction event


The origin of terrestrial tetrapods was a key event in vertebrate evolution, yet how and when it occurred remains obscure, due to scarce fossil evidence. Here, we show that the study of palaeopathologies, such as broken and healed bones, can help elucidate poorly understood behavioural transitions such as this. Using high-resolution finite element analysis, we demonstrate that the oldest known broken tetrapod bone, a radius of the primitive stem tetrapod Ossinodus pueri from the mid-Viséan (333 million years ago) of Australia, fractured under a high-force, impact-type loading scenario. The nature of the fracture suggests that it most plausibly occurred during a fall on land. Augmenting this are new osteological observations, including a preferred directionality to the trabecular architecture of cancellous bone. Together, these results suggest that Ossinodus, one of the first large (>2m length) tetrapods, spent a significant proportion of its life on land. Our findings have important implications for understanding the temporal, biogeographical and physiological contexts under which terrestriality in vertebrates evolved. They push the date for the origin of terrestrial tetrapods further back into the Carboniferous by at least two million years. Moreover, they raise the possibility that terrestriality in vertebrates first evolved in large tetrapods in Gondwana rather than in small European forms, warranting a re-evaluation of this important evolutionary event.

Concepts: Bone, Evolution, Bird, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Carboniferous


The Permian and Triassic were key time intervals in the history of life on Earth. Both periods are marked by a series of biotic crises including the most catastrophic of such events, the end-Permian mass extinction, which eventually led to a major turnover from typical Palaeozoic faunas and floras to those that are emblematic for the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Here we review patterns in Permian-Triassic bony fishes, a group whose evolutionary dynamics are understudied. Based on data from primary literature, we analyse changes in their taxonomic diversity and body size (as a proxy for trophic position) and explore their response to Permian-Triassic events. Diversity and body size are investigated separately for different groups of Osteichthyes (Dipnoi, Actinistia, ‘Palaeopterygii’, ‘Subholostei’, Holostei, Teleosteomorpha), within the marine and freshwater realms and on a global scale (total diversity) as well as across palaeolatitudinal belts. Diversity is also measured for different palaeogeographical provinces. Our results suggest a general trend from low osteichthyan diversity in the Permian to higher levels in the Triassic. Diversity dynamics in the Permian are marked by a decline in freshwater taxa during the Cisuralian. An extinction event during the end-Guadalupian crisis is not evident from our data, but ‘palaeopterygians’ experienced a significant body size increase across the Guadalupian-Lopingian boundary and these fishes upheld their position as large, top predators from the Late Permian to the Late Triassic. Elevated turnover rates are documented at the Permian-Triassic boundary, and two distinct diversification events are noted in the wake of this biotic crisis, a first one during the Early Triassic (dipnoans, actinistians, ‘palaeopterygians’, ‘subholosteans’) and a second one during the Middle Triassic (‘subholosteans’, neopterygians). The origination of new, small taxa predominantly among these groups during the Middle Triassic event caused a significant reduction in osteichthyan body size. Neopterygii, the clade that encompasses the vast majority of extant fishes, underwent another diversification phase in the Late Triassic. The Triassic radiation of Osteichthyes, predominantly of Actinopterygii, which only occurred after severe extinctions among Chondrichthyes during the Middle-Late Permian, resulted in a profound change within global fish communities, from chondrichthyan-rich faunas of the Permo-Carboniferous to typical Mesozoic and Cenozoic associations dominated by actinopterygians. This turnover was not sudden but followed a stepwise pattern, with leaps during extinction events.

Concepts: Extinction, Dinosaur, Carboniferous, Extinction event, Triassic, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Permian, Permian–Triassic extinction event