Origins of life on land


Reconstruction of the Devonian tetrapod Ventastega curonica. Painting by Philip Renne.

Early evolution of vertebrates and the land ecosystem

The Palaeozoic Era, 542 to 251 million years ago, was the time period when vertebrates (backboned animals) originated and diversified into the major extant groups, as well as the time when a complex terrestrial ecosystem first developed. We study the early evolution of vertebrates, from the first diversification of jawless vertebrates, through the origin and early evolution of jawed vertebrates, to the origin of land vertebrates or tetrapods (see image above). Particular areas of interest are the origin of jawed vertebrate facial architecture, the soft anatomy of placoderms (extinct armoured fishes, the most primitive of all jawed verterbates), the interrelationships of placoderms and osteichthyans, and the anatomy and functional morphology ofd the earliest land vertebrates. In collaboration with the Baldauf research group we are also investigating the early evolution of the terrestrial ecosystem with focus on the early history of a previously neglected but important group of obligate soil microorganisms, the Amoebozoa.

Selected publications

Fiz-Palacios, O., Romeralo, M., Ahmadzadeh, A., Weststrand, S., Ahlberg, P. E. & Baldauf, S. 2013. Did terrestrial diversification of amoebas (Amoebozoa) occur in synchrony with land plants? PLOS ONE 8(9), e74374.

Pierce, S. E., Ahlberg, P. E., Hutchinson, J. R., Molnar, J. L., Sanchez, S., Tafforeau, P. & Clack, J. A. 2013. Vertebral architecture in the earliest stem tetrapods. Nature 494, 226-230 ("letter").

Trinajstic, K., Sanchez, S., Dupret, V., Tafforeau, P., Long, J., Young, G., Senden, T., Boisvert, C., Power, N. & Ahlberg, P. E. 2013. Fossil musculature of the most primitive jawed vertebrates. Science 341, 160-164 ("report").

Zhu, M., Yu, X., Ahlberg, P. E., Choo, B., Lu, J., Qiao, T., Qu, Q., Zhao, W., Jia, L., Blom, H. & Zhu, Y. 2013. A Silurian placoderm with osteichthyan-like marginal jaw bones. Nature ("Article", advance online publication).