Ramirez-Chaves, H.E.; Wroe, S.W.; Selwood, L.; Hinds, L.A.; Leigh, C.; Koyabu, D.; Kardjilov, N.; Weisbecker, V.: Mammalian development does not recapitulate suspected key transformations in the evolutionary detachment of the mammalian middle ear. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 283 (2016), p. 2015-2606
The ectotympanic, malleus and incus of the developing mammalian middle ear (ME) are initially attached to the dentary via Meckel's cartilage, betraying their origins from the primary jaw joint of land vertebrates. This recapitulation has prompted mostly unquantified suggestions that several suspected—but similarly unquantified—key evolutionary transformations leading to the mammalian ME are recapitulated in development, through negative allometry and posterior/medial displacement of ME bones relative to the jaw joint. Here we show, using µCT reconstructions, that neither allometric nor topological change is quantifiable in the pre-detachment ME development of six marsupials and two monotremes. Also, differential ME positioning in the two monotreme species is not recapitulated. This challenges the developmental prerequisites of widely cited evolutionary scenarios of definitive mammalian middle ear (DMME) evolution, highlighting the requirement for further fossil evidence to test these hypotheses. Possible association between rear molar eruption, full ME ossification and ME detachment in marsupials suggests functional divergence between dentary and ME as a trigger for developmental, and possibly also evolutionary, ME detachment. The stable positioning of the dentary and ME supports suggestions that a ‘partial mammalian middle ear’ as found in many mammaliaforms—probably with a cartilaginous Meckel's cartilage—represents the only developmentally plausible evolutionary DMME precursor.