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Wagner, Philipp; Haug, Joachim T.; Sell, Jürgen; Haug, Carolin (2017): Ontogenetic sequence comparison of extant and fossil tadpole shrimps: no support for the "living fossil" concept. In: Palz, Vol. 91, No. 4: pp. 463-472
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The tadpole shrimp Triops cancriformis (Branchiopoda, Eucrustacea) is often referred to as a "living fossil." This term implies that the morphology of a species has barely changed for hundreds of millions of years;in the case of T. cancriformis, for about 200 million years. In 1938, Trusheim documented fossil notostracans from the Upper Triassic of southern Germany (237-200 million years) and named them T. cancriformis minor due to their small size compared to modern forms of T. cancriformis. We compared the ontogenetic sequence of the fossil forms to that of modern forms. Fossil material came from the Museum Terra Triassic in Euerdorf and originated from the same geological formation (the Hassberge Formation) as the Trusheim material, which is considered to be nearly entirely lost. The specimens were documented using cross-polarized light and processed into high-resolution images. Fluorescence microscopy was used to document exuviae and carcasses of extant representatives of T. cancriformis. Both forms showed an elongation and similar trends in the length/width ratio of the shield during ontogeny. However, differences were found in the starting point of the developmental processes. Fossil forms start out with a more roundly shaped shield, which becomes more elliptical, while extant forms already start with a more elliptical shield shape. Further differences between extant and fossil forms were found upon comparing shield to trunk ratios. All differences are highly significant statistically. These differences in ontogeny cast severe doubt on the interpretation that T. cancriformis has been static for 237 million years. While the term "living fossil" is misleading and its use should be discouraged in general, it seems to be especially inappropriate to apply it to T. cancriformis.