A tetrapod fauna from within the Devonian Antarctic Circle

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Science  08 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6393, pp. 1120-1124
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1645

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Out of Antarctica

When we think of Devonian tetrapods, the ancestors of all modern vertebrates, we tend to picture amphibian-like creatures emerging from the water into a wet tropical forest or swamp. Indeed, all previously described specimens of this group have been recovered from the tropics. Gess and Ahlberg now describe two fossil tetrapods from Devonian Antarctica. Thus, the distribution of tetrapods may have been global, which encourages us to rethink the environments in which this important group was shaped.

Science, this issue p. 1120


Until now, all known fossils of tetrapods (limbed vertebrates with digits) and near-tetrapods (such as Elpistostege, Tiktaalik, and Panderichthys) from the Devonian period have come from localities in tropical to subtropical paleolatitudes. Most are from Laurussia, a continent incorporating Europe, Greenland, and North America, with only one body fossil and one footprint locality from Australia representing the southern supercontinent Gondwana. Here we describe two previously unknown tetrapods from the Late Devonian (late Famennian) Gondwana locality of Waterloo Farm in South Africa, then located within the Antarctic Circle, which demonstrate that Devonian tetrapods were not restricted to warm environments and suggest that they may have been global in distribution.

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