Early Devonian Bony Fishes and the Relationships of Lungfishes

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: geology, fossils, paleontology, archaeology, ancient fish

Principal Investigator: Cumbaa, S.L. (2)
Licence Number: 12912
Organization: Canadian Museum of Nature
Licensed Year(s): 2010 2008 1997 1995
Issued: Jun 06, 1997
Project Team: Richard Day (Can. Museum of Nature), Dr. Oliver Hampe (Museum fur Naturkunde), John Chorn (Univ. of Kansas, Museum of Natural History)

Objective(s): In 1995, our field project recovered fossil bones and scales of marine fishes of Lower Devonian age from rocks along the Anderson River. These rocks and the fossils they contain are thought to be roughly 400 million years old. We have identified from our samples the bones of lungfishes and other bony fishes, including the earliest known complete actinopterygian, or fay-finned fish. There has been considerable scientific debate over the phylogenetic placement of lungfishes, which are an ancient group of lobe-finned, air-breathing bony fishes, and the anatomy of the most primitive actinopterygian (ancestor of most modern fishes) were almost completely unknown. We hope the recovery of and analysis of additional fossils from this rich locality will settle the debate and allow us to better evaluate the position of early, primitive lungfishes on the evolutionary ladder, to know more about the structure and morphology of the primitive ray-fins, and to understand these fishes in the context of their shallow marine paleoenvironment.

Project Description: We plan to conduct geological and paleontological exploration and research, checking Devonian-age rocks exposed along a 1-2 km stretch of the Anderson River to look for bones and scales of fossil fish contained within the rocks. These rocks, and the fossils within them, are approximately 400 million years old. In 1995, we discovered bones of a primitive lungfish (an ancient, lobe-finned, air-breathing fish which has relatives living today in Africa, Australia and South America) and the earliest known complete specimen of the ancestor of most modern fish. We will return to the locality we visited in 1995, using hand tools to collect samples which we will prepare in the laboratories of our museums in Ottawa and in Berlin. By studying the fossil bones and scales, and comparing them to others in museum collections, we hope to learn more about the evolution of these fishes, whose descendants have survived for 400 million years, ad the shallow marine environment in which they live. we will publish the results of our research in international publications.