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The tetrapod Caerorhachis bairdi Holmes and Carroll from the Lower Carboniferous of Scotland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2007

Marcello Ruta
Department of Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6HT, UK. e-mail:
Andrew R. Milner
Department of Biology, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK. e-mail:
Michael I. Coates
Department of Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6HT, UK. e-mail:


The tetrapod Caerorhachis bairdi, probably from the Pendleian Limestone Coal Group in the Scottish Midland Valley, is rediagnosed and redescribed, and its affinities are discussed. Caerorachis was originally interpreted as a temnospondyl amphibian, based on characters that are now regarded as primitive for tetrapods, or of uncertain polarity. Several features of Caerorhachis (e.g. gastrocentrous vertebrae, curved trunk ribs, reduced dorsal iliac blade, L-shaped tarsal intermedium) are observed in certain primitive amniotes. In particular, Caerorhachis resembles ‘anthracosaurs’, generally considered to be among the most primitive of stem-group amniotes.

The phylogenetic position of Caerorhachis is considered in the light of recently published cladistic analyses of Palaeozoic tetrapods. Most analyses place Caerorhachis at the base of, or within, ‘anthracosaurs’. When multiple, equally parsimonious solutions are found, its ‘anthracosaur’ affinities are shown in at least some trees, and are supported by several informative and, generally, highly consistent characters. Alternative phylogenetic placements (e.g. sister taxon to temnospondyls) are usually less well corroborated.

If the fundamental evolutionary split of most early tetrapods into stem-group lissamphibians (e.g. temnospondyls) and stem-group amniotes (e.g. ‘anthracosaurs’) is accepted, then the revised interpretation of Caerprhachis sheds light on near-ancestral conditions for Amniota.

Research Article
Royal Society of Edinburgh 2001

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