Trends in evolutionary morphology : a case study in the relationships of angel sharks and batoid fishes
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Chondrichthyans are cartilaginous fishes that include the extant chimaeras, sharks, and batoids, and their extinct relatives. In this dissertation, I examined the growth, development, and relationships of extinct and extant chondrichthyans. I reexamined the skeleton of fossil and fetal specimens of the angel sharks (Squatiniformes) and reanalyzed the current morphologically based hypothesis of chondrichthyan evolution, which conflicts with the current molecular based hypothesis. I did this by including extinct taxa and new characters based on dentition, and the ethmoid, occipital, pectoral, and vertebral skeleton. My results supported the pre-existing morphological hypothesis that angel sharks, saw sharks, and batoids form a clade. However, some of my new characters, particularly those based on the vertebral morphology, indicate that fetal and juvenile angel sharks do not share as many apomorphies with batoids as previously hypothesized from the examination of adults. I also examine the relationships of major groups within batoids, beginning with the construction of a hypothesis of the evolutionary history of electric rays (Torpediniformes). My results are consistent with previous rank-based classiﬁcations. However, they deviate from previous classifications depending on the criteria used to generate the hypothesis and on which taxon, or combination of taxa, were used to root the ingroup phylogeny. Because pectoral and vertebral morphology are so critical to morphological hypotheses, I also examined the growth and development of the synarcual cartilage in batoid fishes, with particular emphasis on the synarcual of skates (Rajiformes). My results demonstrate that calcification and chondrification do not proceed in the same order, temporally and spatially. Finally, I redescribe the extinct batoid †Cyclobatis, known only from the Cretaceous, and evaluate its phylogenetic position. My results indicate that †Cyclobatis, the oldest known rajid, is also the sister taxon to a clade of all known extant members of Rajidae. Furthermore, the inclusion of new characters, mainly derived from the synarcual, help to resolve the interrelationships of Rajidae.