High-latitude Chondrichthyans from the Late Devonian (Famennian) Witpoort formation of South Africa

Abstract

New material from the Late Devonian Witpoort Formation (Witteberg Group, Cape Supergroup) of Waterloo Farm (Grahamstown, South Africa) includes teeth, spines, and rare endoskeletal remains of early chondrichthyans. Plesioselachus, formerly described from Waterloo Farm, is redescribed and reinterpreted on the basis of new specimens. A new species of Antarctilamna is reported and described for the first time, adding significantly to the range of skeletal anatomy covered by fossils attributed to this genus. Notably, it reveals new details of the jaws and braincase. Juvenile chondrichthyan material is also reported; although this provides only limited anatomical detail; it might be attributed to Antarctilamna. The record of Devonian chondrichthyans is poor compared with that of early osteichthyans, and these fossils are a significant addition to the data set. Thus far, the Waterloo Farm locality preserves a unique, high latitude, shallow marine (estuarine) biota dated to the latest part of the Devonian. The Waterloo Farm vertebrate assemblage thus provides a biogeographically outstanding comparison with better-known, contemporary vertebrate assemblages from much lower latitudes. Faunal lists from these localities have already been used to estimate the magnitude of an acute turnover of vertebrate diversity across the Devonian-Mississippian boundary. Waterloo Farm chondrichthyan diversity, albeit limited, is, at least, consistent with hypotheses of an End Devonian biotic crisis. Rather than providing an early glimpse of the increasingly well documented post-Devonian evolutionary radiation of modern gnathostome clades, it seems that Waterloo Farm vertebrates are mostly related to groups that flourished earlier within the Devonian record.

Kurzfassung

Neue Vertebraten-Funde aus der oberdevonischen Witpoort Formation (Witteberg Group, Cape Supergroup) beinhalten Zähne, Stacheln and einzelne endoskelettale Reste von frühen Knorpelfischen (Chondrichthyes). Von der untersuchten Fossillagerstätte Waterloo Farm (Grahamstown, Südafrika) wurde bereits Plesioselachus beschrieben und basierend auf den nun vorliegenden Neufunden werden diese in der aktuellen Arbeit neu beschrieben und interpretiert. Darüber hinaus wird eine neue Art der Gattung Antarctilamna beschrieben, welche neue Erkenntnisse zur unterschiedlichen Skelett-Anatomie dieser Gruppe liefert. Insbesondere die Details des Kiefers und Neurocraniums sind bemerkenswert. Auch juveniles Material, wenngleich mit begrenztem anatomischen Detail, wird der Gattung Antarctilamna zugeordnet. Im Vergleich zu frühen Knochenfischen (Osteichthyes) sind devonische Knorpelfische nur selten erhalten, bilden aber einen wichtigen Bestandteil des Datensatzes. Die Fossillagerstätte Waterloo Farm hat eine einzigartige, randmarine (lagunär-ästuare) Fauna und Flora hoher Breiten aus dem späten Devon hervorgebracht. Die erhaltene Vertebraten-Fossilgesellschaft liefert eine biogeograpisch bedeutende Datengrundlage für den Vergleich mit bereits gut dokumentierten devonischen Vertebraten-Vergesellschaftungen aus wesentlich niederen Breiten. Faunenlisten dieser Lokalitäten wurden bereits ausgewertet, um das eigentliche Ausmaß des Rückgangs in der Diversität der Vertebraten an der Devon-Karbon-Grenze abzuschätzen. Die Diversität der Knorpelfische der Fossillagerstätte Waterloo Farm, wenngleich beschränkt, scheint die Hypothese der Biodiversitätskrise im späten Devon zu bestätigen. Daher wird angenommen, dass diese Vertebraten nicht die bereits gut dokumentierte post-devonische Radiation moderner Gnathostomata dokumentieren,sondern am ehesten mit Gruppen in Beziehung stehen, die schon im frühen Devon ihren Ursprung haben.

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Acknowledgments

Research by R.W.G. was supported by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), National Research Foundation (NRF), and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) of South Africa. Research by M.I.C. was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB-0917922. The Albany Museum, Grahamstown, South Africa is thanked for providing storage space for material. The staff of the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, USA, The Cleveland Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, and the Montagu Museum, Montagu, Western Cape, South Africa, are thanked for facilitating R.W.G.’s visits to view comparative material. The unfailing support of Dr Bruce Rubidge of the Bernard Price Institute has been invaluable. M.I.C. would like to thank J.A. Finarelli for lively discussion and input. Professor Annette Götz, Geology Department, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, is thanked for assistance with the translation of the abstract from English into German.

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Gess, R.W., Coates, M.I. High-latitude Chondrichthyans from the Late Devonian (Famennian) Witpoort formation of South Africa. Paläontol Z 89, 147–169 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12542-014-0221-9

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Keywords

  • Agulhas Sea
  • Antarctilamna
  • Plesioselachus
  • Sharks
  • Soft tissue
  • Witteberg

Schlüsselwörter

  • Agulhas See
  • Antarctilamna
  • Plesioselachus
  • Haifisch
  • Witteberg