Dupret V, Sanchez S, Goujet D, Ahlberg PE
PLoS ONE 12 (2) e0171241 [2017-02-07; online 2017-02-07]
Placoderms are considered as the first jawed vertebrates and constitute a paraphyletic group in the stem-gnathostome grade. The acanthothoracid placoderms are among the phylogenetically most basal and morphologically primitive gnathostomes, but their neurocranial anatomy is poorly understood. Here we present a near-complete three-dimensional skull of Romundina stellina, a small Early Devonian acanthothoracid from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, scanned with propagation phase contrast microtomography at a 7.46 μm isotropic voxel size at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Grenoble, France. This is the first model of an early gnathostome skull produced using this technique, and as such represents a major advance in objectivity compared to past descriptions of placoderm neurocrania on the basis of grinding series. Despite some loss of material along an oblique crack, most of the internal structures are remarkably preserved, and most of the missing structures can be reconstructed by symmetry. This virtual approach offers the possibility to connect with certainty all the external foramina to the blood and nerve canals and the central structures, and thus identify accurate homologies without destroying the specimen. The high level of detail enables description of the main arterial, venous and nerve canals of the skull, and other perichondrally ossified endocranial structures such as the palatoquadrate articulations, the endocranial cavity and the inner ear cavities. The braincase morphology appears less extreme than that of Brindabellaspis, and is in some respects more reminiscent of a basal arthrodire such as Kujdanowiaspis.