Unravelling the origin of the basket stars and their allies (Echinodermata, Ophiuroidea, Euryalida)

Authors: Ben Thuy 1, Sabine Stöhr 2

1 Natural History Museum Luxembourg, Department of Palaeontology, 25 rue Münster, 2160, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
2 Swedish Museum of Natural History, Box 50007, 10405, Stockholm, Sweden

Source: Thuy, B. & S. Stöhr, 2018. – Unravelling the origin of the basket stars and their allies (Echinodermata, Ophiuroidea, Euryalida). – nature.com Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 8493 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-018-26877-5.

Abstract: Euryalids, which include the spectacular basket stars, form a morphologically aberrant group of brittle stars. Surprisingly, the most recent molecular work found them to be sister to ophiurid brittle stars, thus challenging the traditional dichotomy between euryalids and non-euryalids, and leaving an enormous ghost lineage of more than 100 million years between the oldest unambiguous euryalid fossils and their predicted divergence from ophiurids during the Triassic. Here we examine both previously known and newly collected fossils to explore the evolutionary history of euryalids. A morphology-based phylogenetic estimate confirms the Triassic Aspiduriella as a basal member of the euryalid clade that superficially resembles members of the living ophiurid sister clades. Furthermore, we use lateral arm plates and vertebrae to identify two new Jurassic ophiuroids, Melusinaster alissawhitegluzae and Melusinaster arcusinimicus, as early euryalids that are morphologically intermediate between Aspiduriella and extant euryalids. Our phylogenetic analysis is the first to combine data from completely preserved skeletons and from microfossils in order to bridge morphological and stratigraphical gaps between the sampled taxa. It fills a major gap in the fossil record of euryalids and sets a robust phylogenetic framework to understand the morphological transition from ophiurid-like ancestors to the typical modern euryalids better.

Read also the story behind the names Melusinaster alissawhitegluzae and Melusinaster arcusinimicus

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