Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fossil Fish Sheds Light on Transition

From Yahoo! News and Nature Magazine:

Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals. Scientists have long known that fish evolved into the first creatures on land with four legs and backbones more than 365 million years ago, but they've had precious little fossil evidence to document how it happened.

The new find of several specimens looks more like a land-dweller than the few other fossil fish known from the transitional period, and researchers speculate that it may have taken brief excursions out of the water.Experts said the discovery, with its unusually well-preserved and complete skeletons, reveals significant new information about how the water-to-land evolution took place.

The new find includes specimens, 4 to 9 feet long, found on Ellesmere Island, which lies north of the Arctic Circle in Canada. It is reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by Shubin, Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and Farish A. Jenkins Jr. of Harvard.

Some 375 million years ago, the creature looked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It swam in shallow, gently meandering streams in what was then a subtropical climate, researchers say. A meat-eater, it lived mostly in water.
Yet, its front fins had bones that correspond to a shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and a primitive version of a wrist.

It might have pulled itself onto stream banks, perhaps moving from one wet area to another, and even crawled across logs in swamps. The researchers have not yet dug up any remains from the hind end of the creature's body, so they don't know exactly what the hind fins and tail might have looked like.

The creature was dubbed Tiktaalik roseae, and also had the crocodile-shaped head of early amphibians, with eyes on the top rather than the side. Unlike other fish, it could move its head independently of its shoulders like a land animal. The back of its head also had features like those of land-dwellers. It probably had lungs as well as gills, and it had overlapping ribs that could be used to support the body against gravity. Yet, the creature's jaws and snout were still very fishlike, showing that "evolution proceeds slowly; it proceeds in a mosaic pattern with some elements changing while others stay the same," Daeschler said.

Shubin said the researchers plan to return to the small rocky outcropping that yielded the fossils and recover more material. "We've really only begun to sort of crack that spot," he said.

The site is in Nunavut Territory, and "Tiktaalik" in the creature's name comes from the traditional language used in the area. It refers to a large freshwater fish seen in the shallows.

1 comment:

David Ketter said...

David MacMillan has a response on that...

Also, I responded to your challenge on the Ark at The King's Highway...just letting you know.