Research highlight

Palaeontology: ‘Living fossil’ originated earlier than thought

Nature Communications

April 11, 2012

The earliest known skull of a coelacanth - a lobe-finned fish - originating from the Early Devonian is reported in Nature Communications this week. The Coelacanth is often referred to as a "living fossil" as it has changed very little since the species originated approximately 380 million years ago. This finding extends the chronological range of anatomically modern coelacanths by about 17 million years.

The coelacanths were believed to be extinct until the first modern specimen was found off the coast of Madagascar in 1938. Min Zhu and colleagues studied a fossil specimen of Euporosteus yunnanensis sp. nov. discovered from Yunnan, China. The skull represents an anatomically modern form, therefore, this study suggests that following an early diversification the coelacanth body plan has remained unchanged since approximately 400 million years ago, even longer than previously thought.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1764

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