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Endocast and bony labyrinth of a stem gnathostome shed light on the earliest diversification of jawed vertebrates

By You-an Zhu, Sam Giles, Gavin Young, Yuzhi Hu, Mohamad Bazzi, Per E. Ahlberg, Min Zhu, Jing Lu

Posted 12 Aug 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.11.242974

Our understanding of the earliest evolution of jawed vertebrates depends on a credible phylogenetic assessment of the jawed stem gnathostomes collectively known as "placoderms". However, their relationships, and even whether "placoderms" represent a single radiation or a paraphyletic array, remain contentious. Here we describe the endocranial cavity and inner ear of Brindabellaspis stensioi , commonly recovered as a taxon of uncertain affinity branching near the base of "placoderms". While some features of its braincase and endocast resemble those of jawless vertebrates, its inner ear displays a repertoire of crown gnathostome characters. Both parsimony and Bayesian analyses suggest that established hypotheses of "placoderm" relationships are unstable, with newly-revealed anatomy pointing to a potentially radical revision of early gnathostome evolution. Our results call into question the appropriateness of fusiform "placoderms" as models of primitive gnathostome anatomy and raise questions of homology relating to key cranial features. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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