The nervous and visual systems of onychophorans and tardigrades: learning about arthropod evolution from their closest relatives
Understanding the origin and evolution of arthropods requires examining their closest outgroups, the tardigrades (water bears) and onychophorans (velvet worms). Despite the rise of molecular techniques, the phylogenetic positions of tardigrades and onychophorans in the panarthropod tree (onychophorans + tardigrades + arthropods) remain unresolved. Hence, these methods alone are currently insufficient for clarifying the panarthropod topology. Therefore, the evolution of different morphological traits, such as one of the most intriguing features of panarthropods—their nervous system—becomes essential for shedding light on the origin and evolution of arthropods and their relatives within the Panarthropoda. In this review, we summarise current knowledge of the evolution of panarthropod nervous and visual systems. In particular, we focus on the evolution of segmental ganglia, the segmental identity of brain regions, and the visual system from morphological and developmental perspectives. In so doing, we address some of the many controversies surrounding these topics, such as the homology of the onychophoran eyes to those of arthropods as well as the segmentation of the tardigrade brain. Finally, we attempt to reconstruct the most likely state of these systems in the last common ancestors of arthropods and panarthropods based on what is currently known about tardigrades and onychophorans.