Article: The braincase and palate of the tetrapodomorph sarcopterygian Mandageria fairfaxi: morphological variability near the fish-tetrapod transition
The braincase of the Late Devonian tristichopterid sarcopterygian Mandageria fairfaxi, from Canowindra, NSW, Australia, differs radically from the conservative pattern present in other 'osteolepiforms' (stem-group tetrapodomorph fishes) and non-dipnoan sarcopterygian fishes in general. The basioccipital region is short, displaced anteriorly, and either unossified or loosely articulated to the exoccipital, leaving most or all of the notochordal tunnel open ventrally. The exoccipital complex, which is developed into a large saddle that would have rested on top of the notochord, carries large, triangular articular facets on its posterior face and appears to have formed part of a functional neck joint, a synovial articulation between the skull and vertebral column that allows the former to rotate against the latter. Such a joint is characteristic of post-Devonian tetrapods, but unknown in other sarcopterygians. We infer that the ventrally open notochordal tunnel allowed gentle flexion of the cranial notochord during (predominantly vertical) rotational movement at the occiput; this is a mechanically unique solution to the problem of creating a mobile neck. Other unusual features of Mandageria include a posteriorly located lateral commissure, and structures on the entopterygoid and lateral commissure that may have been associated with an elaborate spiracular tract.