The dermal skeleton of the jawless vertebrate Tremataspis mammilata (Osteostraci, stem-Gnathostomata)

James O'Shea, Joseph Keating, Philip C. J. Donoghue

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    Osteostracans are the closest jawless relatives of jawed vertebrates, informing the gradual assembly of the vertebrate mineralised skeleton. Conflicting interpretations of their dermal skeletal histology arise from failure to account for topological variation, obscuring their significance in elucidating vertebrate skeletal evolution. To resolve this, we characterize the cranial and trunk dermal skeleton of a single individual of Tremataspis mammilata (Osteostraci, Thyestiida) at submicron resolution using synchrotron tomography. Our results show that the architecture of the Tremataspis dermal skeleton is, for the most part, conserved over the skeleton and is broadly consistent with previous histological hypotheses based on 2-dimensional thin section study. We resolve debate over the homology of the basal layer, identifying it as osteogenic acellular isopedin rather than odontogenic elasmodine or metaplastic ossification of the stratum compactum of the dermis. We find topological variation between all dermal skeletal elements studied, and particularly between the cranial and postcranial dermal skeleton. This variation can be largely explained by reduction in differentiation due to geometric constraints imposed within smaller skeletal elements, such as scales. Our description of the dermal skeleton of Tremataspis mammilata provides a foundation for interpreting data from cursory topological samples of dermal skeletal diversity obtained in other osteostracans. This reveals general aspects of histological structure that must be primitive for osteostracans and, likely, ancestral jawed vertebrates. Finally, we draw the distinction between hypotheses and descriptions in palaeohistology.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Morphology
    Early online date8 May 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • vertebrate
    • dermal
    • skeleton
    • evolution
    • bone
    • dentine
    • enameloid
    • isopedin
    • jawless


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