Interpreting fossilized nervous tissues

Bioessays:2200167 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Paleoneuranatomy is an emerging subfield of paleontological research with great potential for the study of evolution. However, the interpretation of fossilized nervous tissues is a difficult task and presently lacks a rigorous methodology. We critically review here cases of neural tissue preservation reported in Cambrian arthropods, following a set of fundamental paleontological criteria for their recognition. These criteria are based on a variety of taphonomic parameters and account for morphoanatomical complexity. Application of these criteria shows that firm evidence for fossilized nervous tissues is less abundant and detailed than previously reported, and we synthesize here evidence that has stronger support. We argue that the vascular system, and in particular its lacunae, may be central to the understanding of many of the fossilized peri-intestinal features known across Cambrian arthropods. In conclusion, our results suggest the need for caution in the interpretation of evidence for fossilized neural tissue, which will increase the accuracy of evolutionary scenarios.

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