Exceptional fossil preservation and evolution of the ray-finned fish brain

Rodrigo Figueroa, Danielle Goodvin, Matthew A Kolmann, Michael I Coates, Abigail M Caron, Matt Friedman*, Sam Giles*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Brain anatomy provides key evidence for the relationships between ray-finned fishes1, but two major limitations obscure our understanding of neuroanatomical evolution in this major vertebrate group. First, the deepest branching living lineages are separated from the group’s common ancestor by hundreds of millions of years, with indications that aspects of their brain morphology—like other aspects of their anatomy2,3—are specialized relative to primitive conditions. Second, there are no direct constraints on brain morphology in the earliest ray-finned fishes beyond the coarse picture provided by cranial endocasts: natural or virtual infillings of void spaces within the skull4,5,6,7,8. Here we report brain and cranial nerve soft-tissue preservation in Coccocephalus wildi, an approximately 319-million-year-old ray-finned fish. This example of a well-preserved vertebrate brain provides a window into neural anatomy deep within ray-finned fish phylogeny. Coccocephalus indicates a more complicated pattern of brain evolution than suggested by living species alone, highlighting cladistian apomorphies1 and providing temporal constraints on the origin of traits uniting all extant ray-finned fishes1,9. Our findings, along with a growing set of studies in other animal groups10,11,12, point to the importance of ancient soft tissue preservation in understanding the deep evolutionary assembly of major anatomical systems outside of the narrow subset of skeletal tissues13,14,15.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486–491
Number of pages6
Early online date1 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2023


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