Is Palaeospondylus gunni a fossil larval lungfish? Insights from Neoceratodus forsteri development

Jean Joss*, Zerina Johanson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


The enigmatic Devonian fossil Palaeospondylus gunni was identified as a larval form, metamorphosing into the lungfish Dipterus valenciennesi. Morphological features used to identify P. gunni as a larval lungfish include enlarged cranial ribs, rudimentary limb girdles, and absence of teeth. However, this combination of features does not characterize the extant lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri, even at very young stages, nor early stages of Devonian and younger fossil lungfish. Absence of teeth is problematic because early ontogenetic stages of fossil and living lungfish possess full dentitions including marginal teeth. Also problematic are cranial ribs as a defining character of lungfish, as these also occur in certain actinopterygians. It is argued that Neoceratodus is an obligate neotene (reproductively mature larva), with the implication that metamorphosis was a feature of the ontogeny of early lungfish. Pedomorphic characters have been recognized in Neoceratodus and other post-Devonian lungfish, including large cells and correspondingly large genome size; these latter characters correlate with neoteny in salamanders. Small cells preserved in fossil bone suggest that Devonian lungfish had a smaller genome than post-Devonian lungfish, implying that they were not neotenic. As fossil lungfish cell sizes (and genomes) increased in the late Paleozoic, the diversity of lungfish morphologies decreased, so that taxa like Sagenodus and Conchopoma show morphological similarity to Neoceratodus, marking a point in phylogeny at which metamorphosis was potentially lost. Since ancestral larval characters are retained in neotenic adults, we predict that Devonian larvae should resemble these post-Devonian taxa, a prediction which Palaeospondylus does not fulfill.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-171
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2007

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