Martin QvarnstrÃm, Piotr Szrek, Per E. Ahlberg & Grzegorz NiedÅwiedzki (2018)
Non-marine palaeoenvironment associated to the earliest tetrapod tracks.
Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 1074 (2018)
Opinions differ on whether the evolution of tetrapods (limbed vertebrates) from lobe-finned fishes was directly linked to terrestrialization. The earliest known tetrapod fossils, from the Middle Devonian (approximately 390 million years old) of ZacheÅmie Quarry in Poland, are trackways made by limbs with digits; they document a direct environmental association and thus have the potential to help answer this question. However, the tetrapod identity of the tracks has recently been challenged, despite their well-preserved morphology, on account of their great age and supposedly shallow marine (intertidal or lagoonal) depositional environment. Here we present a new palaeoenvironmental interpretation of the track-bearing interval from ZacheÅmie, showing that it represents a succession of ephemeral lakes with a restricted and non-marine biota, rather than a marginal marine environment as originally thought. This context suggests that the trackmaker was capable of terrestrial locomotion, consistent with the appendage morphology recorded by the footprints, and thus provides additional support for a tetrapod identification.