Data from: The oldest actinopterygian highlights the cryptic early history of the hyperdiverse ray-finned fishes
Lu, Jing et al. (2017), Data from: The oldest actinopterygian highlights the cryptic early history of the hyperdiverse ray-finned fishes, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.t6j72
Osteichthyans comprise two divisions, each containing over 32,000 living species: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods) and Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes). Recent discoveries from China highlight the morphological disparity of early sarcopterygians and extend their origin into the late Silurian. By contrast, the oldest unambiguous actinopterygians are roughly 30 million years younger, leaving a long temporal gap populated by fragments and rare body fossils of controversial phylogenetic placement. Here we reinvestigate the enigmatic osteichthyan Meemannia from the Early Devonian (∼415 million years ago) of China, previously identified as an exceptionally primitive lobe-finned fish. Meemannia combines “cosmine”-like tissues taken as evidence of sarcopterygian affinity with actinopterygian-like skull roof and braincase geometry, including endoskeletal enclosure of the spiracle and a lateral cranial canal. We report comparable histological structures in undoubted ray-finned fishes and conclude that they are general osteichthyan features. Phylogenetic analysis places Meemannia as an early-diverging ray-finned fish, resolving it as the sister lineage of Cheirolepis plus all younger actinopterygians. This brings the first appearance of ray-fins more in line with that of lobe-fins and fills a conspicuous faunal gap in the otherwise diverse late Silurian-earliest Devonian vertebrate faunas of the South China Block.