, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 213-223
Date: 17 Mar 2009

The Fish–Tetrapod Transition: New Fossils and Interpretations

Abstract

Our information on the transition between fish with fins and tetrapods with limbs and digits has increased manyfold in the last 15–20 years and especially in the last 5 or 10 years, with some spectacular finds of new material. Some of these include new tetrapod-like fish and very primitive tetrapods that help to resolve questions of the sequence of acquisition of tetrapod characters, the approximate timing of the events, the likely geographic location, and the circumstances under which it happened. Forelimbs and skulls became modified in advance of hind limbs, adapted for supporting the head and front of the body out of the water, probably in connection with air breathing. The likely time of origin for limbed tetrapods is between 385 and 380 million years ago, probably in the northern continent of Laurussia. The origin of limbed tetrapods did not coincide with the acquisition of full terrestriality, an outcome that probably arose in the Early Carboniferous. This later part of the story is documented by few fossils, though two in particular give key information. Studies of modern vertebrates, especially the evolutionary developmental genetics of Hox genes, are beginning to provide clues to the origin of digits.