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Sci Adv. 2019 Sep 11;5(9):eaax2742. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax2742. eCollection 2019 Sep.

High-performance suction feeding in an early elasmobranch.

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Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, 1027 E 57th St., Chicago, IL 60637, USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, 171 Meeting St., Box G-B 204, Providence, RI 02912, USA.
UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, UCD Science Education and Research Centre (West), UCD Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.


High-performance suction feeding is often presented as a classic innovation of ray-finned fishes, likely contributing to their remarkable evolutionary success, whereas sharks, with seemingly less sophisticated jaws, are generally portrayed as morphologically conservative throughout their history. Here, using a combination of computational modeling, physical modeling, and quantitative three-dimensional motion simulation, we analyze the cranial skeleton of one of the earliest known stem elasmobranchs, Tristychius arcuatus from the Middle Mississippian of Scotland. The feeding apparatus is revealed as highly derived, capable of substantial oral expansion, and with clear potential for high-performance suction feeding some 50 million years before the earliest osteichthyan equivalent. This exceptional jaw performance is not apparent from standard measures of ecomorphospace using two-dimensional data. Tristychius signals the emergence of entirely new chondrichthyan ecomorphologies in the aftermath of the end-Devonian extinction and highlights sharks as significant innovators in the early radiation of the modern vertebrate biota.

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