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

James O'Shea [deceased], Joseph Keating, Philip Donoghue*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

9 Citations (Scopus)
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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 mammillata (Osteostraci, Thyestiida) at submicron resolution using synchrotron‐ and computed‐ 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 2D 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 mammillata 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 ancestral for osteostracans and, likely, ancestral jawed vertebrates. Finally, we draw the distinction between hypotheses and descriptions in palaeohistology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)999-1025
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number7
Early online date8 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

This research study was conducted by James O’Shea in partial fulfilment of the MSci Palaeontologyand Evolution at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, working under the guidance of Joseph Keating and Philip Donoghue. James was one of the most gifted undergraduate students that we have had the pleasure of supervising, clearly destined to become a leading light in which ever field of research he chose to focus upon. His untimely death is a great loss to our science, as well as incalculable personal tragedy for all who knew him. James would have wished to acknowledge thelove, support, help and friendship of his family, as well as his friends and colleagues in Bristol Palaeobiology, all of whom miss him dearly.

Structured keywords

  • MSci Palaeontology and Evolution


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


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