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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Oct 22;276(1673):3571-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0950. Epub 2009 Jul 29.

Velvet worm development links myriapods with chelicerates.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


Despite the advent of modern molecular and computational methods, the phylogeny of the four major arthropod groups (Chelicerata, Myriapoda, Crustacea and Hexapoda, including the insects) remains enigmatic. One particular challenge is the position of myriapods as either the closest relatives to chelicerates (Paradoxopoda/Myriochelata hypothesis), or to crustaceans and hexapods (Mandibulata hypothesis). While neither hypothesis receives conclusive support from molecular analyses, most morphological studies favour the Mandibulata concept, with the mandible being the most prominent feature of this group. Although no morphological evidence was initially available to support the Paradoxopoda hypothesis, a putative synapomorphy of chelicerates and myriapods has recently been put forward based on studies of neurogenesis. However, this and other morphological characters remain of limited use for phylogenetic systematics owing to the lack of data from an appropriate outgroup. Here, we show that several embryonic characters are synapomorphies uniting the chelicerates and myriapods, as revealed by an outgroup comparison with the Onychophora or velvet worms. Our findings, thus provide, to our knowledge, first morphological/embryological support for the monophyly of the Paradoxopoda and suggest that the mandible might have evolved twice within the arthropods.

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