Squamation and ecology of thelodonts

Humberto G. Ferrón, Héctor Botella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Thelodonts are an enigmatic group of Paleozoic jawless vertebrates that have been well studied from taxonomical, biostratigraphic and paleogeographic points of view, although our knowledge of their ecology and mode of life is still scant. Their bodies were covered by micrometric scales whose morphology, histology and the developmental process are extremely similar to those of extant sharks. Based on these similarities and on the well-recognized relationship between squamation and ecology in sharks, here we explore the ecological diversity and lifestyles of thelodonts. For this we use classic morphometrics and discriminant analysis to characterize the squamation patterns of a significant number of extant shark species whose ecology is well known. Multivariate analyses have defined a characteristic squamation pattern for each ecological group, thus establishing a comparative framework for inferring lifestyles in thelodonts. We then use this information to study the squamation of the currently described 147 species of thelodonts, known from both articulated and disarticulated remains. Discriminant analysis has allowed recognizing squamation patterns comparable to those of sharks and links them to specific ecological groups. Our results suggest a remarkable ecological diversity in thelodonts. A large number of them were probably demersal species inhabiting hard substrates, within caves and crevices in rocky environments or reefs, taking advantage of the flexibility provided by their micromeric squamations. Contrary to classical interpretations, only few thelodonts were placed among demersal species inhabiting sandy and muddy substrates. Schooling species with defensive scales against ectoparasites could be also abundant suggesting that social interactions and pressure of ectoparasites were present in vertebrates as early the Silurian. The presence of species showing scales suggestive of low to moderate speed and a lifestyle presumably associated with open water environments indicates adaptation of thelodonts to deep water habitats. Scale morphology suggests that some other thelodonts were strong-swimming pelagic species, most of them radiating during the Early Devonian in association with the Nekton Revolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0172781
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

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