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The earliest tetrapods: What were they, and what are they?

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When E.S. Goodrich coined the term tetrapod, meaning a vertebrate with four legs (or whose ancestors had them), there was a clear distinction between them and anything that might have been called a ‘fish’. Only extant animals were considered at that time, because the fossil record of intermediate forms was more or less non-existent. Recent work on the earliest limbed vertebrates, from the Late Devonian period about 375-360 million years ago, has blurred the distinction between ‘fish’ and ‘tetrapods’ as applied to fossil forms. We now know much more about the transition between these body forms from a wealth of discoveries over the last 15 or 20 years. But this has brought problems of definition. What is a tetrapod, or rather how is the group Tetrapoda defined? This, and emergent associated questions are highly controversial. This talk will introduce some of the creatures that have been discovered, and the different,incompatible views that have been put forward as answers.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Biological Society series.

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