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Biol Lett. 2008 Apr 23;4(2):212-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0597.

Microanatomy of Early Devonian book lungs.

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Vergleichende Zoologie, Humboldt-Universität, 10115 Berlin, Germany.


The book lungs of an exceptionally preserved fossil arachnid (Trigonotarbida) from the Early Devonian (approx. 410 Myr ago) Rhynie cherts of Scotland were studied using a non-destructive imaging technique. Our three-dimensional modelling of fine structures, based on assembling successive images made at different focal planes through the translucent chert matrix, revealed for the first time fossil trabeculae: tiny cuticular pillars separating adjacent lung lamellae and creating a permanent air space. Trabeculae thus show unequivocally that trigonotarbids were fully terrestrial and that the microanatomy of the earliest known lungs is indistinguishable from that in modern Arachnida. A recurrent controversy in arachnid evolution is whether the similarity between the book lungs of Pantetrapulmonata (i.e. spiders, trigonotarbids, etc.) and those of scorpions is a result of convergence. Drawing on comparative studies of extant taxa, we have identified explicit characters (trabeculae, spines on the lamellar edge) shared by living and fossil arachnid respiratory organs, which support the hypothesis that book lungs were derived from a single, common, presumably terrestrial, ancestor.

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