Bite marks and predation of fossil jawless fish during the rise of jawed vertebrates

Emma Randle, Rob Sansom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although modern vertebrate diversity is dominated by jawed vertebrates, early vertebrate assemblages were predominantly composed of jawless fishes. Hypotheses for this faunal shift and the Devonian decline of jawless vertebrates include predation and competitive replacement. The nature and prevalence of ecological interactions between jawed and jawless vertebrates are highly relevant to both hypotheses, but direct evidence is limited. Here, we use the occurrence and distribution of bite mark type traces in fossil jawless armoured heterostracans to infer predation interactions. A total of 41 predated specimens are recorded; their prevalence increases through time, reaching a maximum towards the end of the Devonian. The bite mark type traces significantly co-occur with jawed vertebrates, and their distribution through time is correlated with jawed vertebrate diversity patterns, particularly placoderms and sarcopterygians. Environmental and ecological turnover in the Devonian, especially relating to the nekton revolution, have been inferred as causes of the faunal shift from jawless to jawed vertebrates. Here, we provide direct evidence of escalating predation from jawed vertebrates as a potential contributing factor to the demise and extinction of ostracoderms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191596
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1917
Early online date18 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2019


  • Devonian
  • Ecology
  • Extinction
  • Ostracoderm
  • Predation
  • Silurian


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