Fish to tetrapods
The first tetrapods are four-legged, air-breathing, terrestrial animals from which the land vertebrates descended, including humans. They evolved from lobe-finned fish, appearing in coastal water in the middle Devonian, and giving rise to the first amphibians. The group of lobe-finned fishes that were the ancestors of the tetrapod are grouped together as the Rhipidistia, and the first tetrapods evolved from these fish over the relatively short timespan 385Ц360 Ma. The early tetrapod groups themselves are grouped as Labyrinthodontia. They retained aquatic, fry-like tadpoles, a system still seen in modern amphibians. From the 1950s to the early 1980s it was thought that tetrapods evolved from fish that had already acquired the ability to crawl on land, possibly in order to go from a pool that was drying out to one that was deeper. However, in 1987, nearly complete fossils of Acanthostega from about 363 Ma showed that this Late Devonian transitional animal had legs and both lungs and gills, but could never have survived on land: its limbs and its wrist and ankle joints were too weak to bear its weight; its ribs were too short to prevent its lungs from being squeezed flat by its weight; its fish-like tail fin would have been damaged by dragging on the ground. The current hypothesis is that Acanthostega, which was about 1 metre (3.3 ft) long, was a wholly aquatic predator that hunted in shallow water. Its skeleton differed from that of most fish, in ways that enabled it to raise its head to breathe air while its body remained submerged, including: its jaws show modifications that would have enabled it to gulp air; the bones at the back of its skull are locked together, providing strong attachment points for muscles that raised its head; the head is not joined to the shoulder girdle and it has a distinct neck. Until the 1980s early transitional lobe-finned fishes, such as the Eusthenopteron shown here, were depicted as emerging onto land. Paleontologists now widely agree this didn't happen, and they were strictly aquatic. External videos Tetrapod Evolution Animal Planet 1 2 3 4 5 Evolution fish with fingers Transitional fossils Ц YouTube The Devonian proliferation of land plants may help
to explain why air-breathing would have been an advantage: leaves falling into streams and rivers would have encouraged the growth of aquatic vegetation; this would have attracted grazing invertebrates and small fish that preyed on them; they would have been attractive prey but the environment was unsuitable for the big marine predatory fish; air-breathing would have been necessary because these waters would have been short of oxygen, since warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cooler marine water and since the decomposition of vegetation would have used some of the oxygen. There are three major hypotheses as to how tetrapods evolved their stubby fins (proto-limbs). The traditional explanation is the "shrinking waterhole hypothesis" or "desert hypothesis" posited by the American paleontologist Alfred Romer. He believed limbs and lungs may have evolved from the necessity of having to find new bodies of water as old waterholes dried up. The second hypothesis is the "inter-tidal hypothesis" put forward in 2010 by a team of Polish paleontologists lead by Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki. They argued that sarcopterygians may have first emerged unto land from intertidal zones rather than inland bodies of water. Their hypothesis is based on the discovery of the 395 million-year-old Zachelmie tracks in Zachelmie, Poland, the oldest ever discovered fossil evidence of tetrapods. The third hypothesis, the "woodland hypothesis", was proposed by the American paleontologist Gregory J. Retallack in 2011. He argues that limbs may have developed in shallow bodies of water in woodlands as a means of navigating in environments filled with roots and vegetation. He based his conclusions on the evidence that transitional tetrapod fossils are consistently found in habitats that were formerly humid and wooded floodplains. Research by Jennifer A. Clack and her colleagues showed that the very earliest tetrapods, animals similar to Acanthostega, were wholly aquatic and quite unsuited to life on land. This is in contrast to the earlier view that fish had first invaded the land Ч either in search of prey (like modern mudskippers) or to find water when the pond they lived in dried out Ч and later evolved legs, lungs, etc.