History of the Coelacanth Fishes

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Springer, 1998 - Nature - 419 pages
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The modern coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, is the product of 360 million years of evolution and since its discovery in 1938 has been popularly acclaimed as a living fossil and a missing link between fishes and tetrapods. Inherent in this reputation are the assumptions that the coelacanth has changed little from its Devonian relatives and that it can reveal the natural history of the tetrapod ancestor. This reputation is based on outdated classification and systematic methods, anecdotal evidence and scant regard for immediate fossil relatives, most of which were described long before Latimeria was discovered. This book evaluates the reputation of the coelacanth, presenting up-to-date accounts of the structure of fossil coelacanths, and suggests a family history to show that there have been subtle but significant changes in coelacanth history. The coelacanth lineage must now be regarded as more distantly related to tetrapods than was originally thought its importance lying in another direction, as an example of the most primitive lobe-finned fish.

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