We looked at the breakup of the traditional clade ‘Holostei’
earlier here. Today’s new taxon (Fig. 1) does not repair that breakup.
Figure 1. Robustichthys in situ.
Described as “the largest holostean of the Middle Triassic,”
Robustichthys luopingensis (Xu et al. 2014, Xu 2019; Figs. 1, 2) does not nest with other traditional holosteans in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1548 taxa). Rather it nests with Pholidophorus (Fig. 3), a tuna-like fish from the Late Triassic. The skulls are nearly identical (Figs. 2, 3), more so that the two skulls attributed to Pholidophorus (Fig. 3). Adding colors to match tetrapod patterns (Fig. 2) is a practice I have encouraged all paleoichthyologists to adopt.
Figure 2. Skull of Robustichthys from Xu 2019, colors added to match tetrapods. Compare to Pholidophorus in figure 3.
Earlier the LRT nested
three traditional extant ‘holosteans’, Amia, the bowfin, the distinctly different Lepisosteus, the gar, and Pholidophorus (Fig. 3), from the Late Triassic, several nodes apart from one another (Fig. 4), creating a polyphyletic clade ‘Holostei’. Robustichthys nests with Pholidophorus. So traditional traits that describe members of the traditional clade ‘Holostei’ are convergent among ray-fin fish in the LRT, which tests skull and skeleton traits.
Xu 2019 only mentions Pholidophorus (while pulling a Larry Martin),
“Recently, Arratia (2013) described that the symplectic also articulates with the lower jaw in the pholidophorid Pholidophorus gervasutti, but this condition, unknown in other early teleosts, probably represents another convergent evolution.” Xu did not include the LRT sisters and cousins, Pholidophorus, Strunius, Thunnus and Saurichthys, among several other taxa that split gars from bowfins in the LRT. Neither did any of the prior workers who produced cladograms included in Xu 2019. So, taxon exclusion is once again the problem here. The only way to test convergence in evolution is to test it, not dismiss it, as Xu did.
What is a Symplectic?
“relating to or being a bone between the hyomandibular and the quadrate in the mandibular suspensorium of many fishes that unites the other bones of the suspensorium.”
Figure 3. Pholidophorus in situ and two skulls attributed to this genus. Compare the one on the left to figure 2. No tested fish in the LRT is closer to Robustichthys than Pholidophorus.
Robustichthys luopingensis (Xu et al. 2014; Xu 2019; Middle Triassic) was described as the largest holstean fish of the Middle Triassic, but here the clade Holostei is polyphyletic and Robustichthys nests alongside Pholidophorus. The long frontal extends posterior to the orbit. The expanded jugal is further split up. Postparietals are absent. In their place the supratemporals rise to the midline. The mandible has a tall coronoid process.
Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on fish. Note the traditional members of the Holostei do not nest together here largely because they don’t look alike, but more like other, more attractive taxa. Please see the LRT for all updates to this cladogram. Robustichthys nests with Pholidophorus, but strangely has not been tested with it in any prior holostean cladogram.
You may wonder
how the LRT is able to recover so many novel solutions that fall outside mainstream hypotheses. Evidently students and professors follow textbooks, the textbooks the professors write and update. The LRT confirms and/or refutes textbooks as it tests every possible combination of the 1548 taxa now employed. It does not matter that the multi-state character count is only a fraction of the taxon count. It does not matter if I do not see the specimen in person and use a professionally rendered drawing (Fig. 3).
What matters is taxon inclusion.
You can’t tell who is related to who else unless you invite them all to participate. That is the number one issue separating this growing online hypothesis of interrelationships and all others.
What matters is lumping and separating all tested taxa
to get a completely resolved tree and making sure that all sister taxa document a gradual accumulation of derived traits (which could include losses of certain bones or bone processes.
Reporting results that differ from the mainstream is not a crime
and does not injure reputations, in the long run. The competition is fierce for discoveries and those who invest heavily into their PhDs and the papers they write fear they have the most to lose. Contra this hypothesis, I’ve never seen a PhD pilloried for making a mistake (unless it was in a tent out in the field with a female student). So all you PhDs out there… relax. If you don’t want to fix the problems in our field of study by including a wider gamut of taxa, let the LRT do it.
As you’ll find out someday, some traditions and paradigms are wrong.
Don’t trust authority. Don’t trust the LRT. Find out for yourself which hypotheses are wrong and right by running your own tests. Let me know if you find a different tree topology than the LRT.
Xu G-H 2019. Osteology and phylogeny of Robustichthys luopingensis, the largest holostean fish in the Middle Triassic. PeerJ 7:e7184 DOI 10.7717/peerj.7184
Xu G-H, Zhao L-J and Coates MI 2014. The oldest ionoscopiform from China sheds new light on the early evolution of halecomorph fishes. Biology Letters 10(5):20140204