From Obscurity to Dominance: Tracking the Rapid Evolutionary Rise of Ray-Finned Fish

After Big Bang

Mass extinctions, like lotteries, result in a multitude of losers and a few lucky winners. This is the story of one of the winners, a small, shell-crushing predatory fish called Fouldenia, which first appears in the fossil record a mere 11 million years after an extinction that wiped out more than 90 percent of the planet’s vertebrate species.

The extinction that ended the Devonian Era 359 million years ago created opportunities quickly exploited by a formerly rare and unremarkable group of fish that went on to become — in terms of the sheer number of species — the most successful vertebrates (backboned animals) on the planet today: the ray-finned fish.

A University of Michigan evolutionary biologist and a colleague have shown that the previously known but misclassified Fouldenia was the first recorded shell-crushing ray-finned fish. This long-extinct fish, and a handful of its relatives, demonstrate that in the immediate…

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