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Before trilobite legs: Pygmaclypeatus daziensis reconsidered and the ancestral appendicular organization of Cambrian artiopods

By Michel Schmidt, Xianguang Hou, Dayou Zhai, Huijuan Mai, Jelena Belojevic, Xiaohan Chen, Roland R. Melzer, Javier Ortega-Hernandez, Yu Liu

Posted 19 Aug 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.18.456779

The Cambrian Stage 3 Chengjiang biota in South China is one of the most influential Konservat Lagerstatten worldwide thanks to the fossilization of diverse nonbiomineralizing organisms through pyritization. Despite their contributions to understanding the evolution of early animals, several Chengjiang species remain poorly known due to their scarcity and/or incomplete preservation. Here, we use micro-computed tomography to reveal in detail the ventral appendage organization of the enigmatic non-trilobite artiopod Pygmaclypeatus daziensis, one of the rarest euarthropods in Chengjiang, and explore its functional ecology and broader evolutionary significance. P. daziensis possesses a set of uniramous antennae and 14 pairs of post-antennal biramous appendages, the latter of which show an unexpectedly high degree of heteronomy based on the localized differentiation of the protopodite, endopod and exopod along the antero-posterior body axis. The small body size (less than 2 cm), presence of delicate spinose endites, and well-developed exopods with multiple paddle-shaped lamellae on the appendages of P. daziensis indicate a nekto-benthic mode of life, and a scavenging/detritus feeding strategy. P. daziensis shows that appendage heteronomy is phylogenetically widespread within Artiopoda, the megadiverse clade that includes trilobites and their relatives with nonbiomineralizing exoskeletons and suggests that a single exopod lobe with paddle like lamellae is ancestral for this clade.

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