Background: The fish-tetrapod transition was one of the major events in vertebrate evolution and was enabled by many morphological changes. Although the transformation of paired fish fins into tetrapod limbs has been a major topic of study in recent years, both from paleontological and comparative developmental perspectives, the interest has focused almost exclusively on the distal part of the appendage and in particular the origin of digits. Relatively little attention has been paid to the transformation of the pelvic girdle from a small unipartite structure to a large tripartite weight-bearing structure, allowing tetrapods to rely mostly on their hindlimbs for locomotion. In order to understand how the ischium and the ilium evolved and how the acetabulum was reoriented during this transition, growth series of the Australian lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri and the Mexican axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum were cleared and stained for cartilage and bone and immunostained for skeletal muscles. In order to understand the myological developmental data, hypotheses about the homologies of pelvic muscles in adults of Latimeria, Neoceratodus and Necturus were formulated based on descriptions from the literature of the coelacanth (Latimeria), the Australian Lungfish (Neoceratodus) and a salamander (Necturus). Results: In the axolotl and the lungfish, the chondrification of the pelvic girdle starts at the acetabula and progresses anteriorly in the lungfish and anteriorly and posteriorly in the salamander. The ilium develops by extending dorsally to meet and connect to the sacral rib in the axolotl. Homologous muscles develop in the same order with the hypaxial musculature developing first, followed by the deep, then the superficial pelvic musculature. Conclusions: Development of the pelvic endoskeleton and musculature is very similar in Neoceratodus and Ambystoma. If the acetabulum is seen as being a fixed landmark, the evolution of the ischium only required pubic pre-chondrogenic cells to migrate posteriorly. It is hypothesized that the iliac process or ridge present in most tetrapodomorph fish is the precursor to the tetrapod ilium and that its evolution mimicked its development in modern salamanders.
- Fish-tetrapod transition
- Pelvic girdle
- Extant phylogenetic bracketing method
- Evolutionary novelty
- Muscle development