Harvestmen, the third most-diverse arachnid order, are an ancient group found on all continental landmasses, except Antarctica. However, a terrestrial mode of life and leathery, poorly mineralized exoskeleton makes preservation unlikely, and their fossil record is limited. The few Palaeozoic species discovered to date appear surprisingly modern, but are too poorly preserved to allow unequivocal taxonomic placement. Here, we use high-resolution X-ray micro-tomography to describe two new harvestmen from the Carboniferous ( approximately 305 Myr) of France. The resulting computer models allow the first phylogenetic analysis of any Palaeozoic Opiliones, explicitly resolving both specimens as members of different extant lineages, and providing corroboration for molecular estimates of an early Palaeozoic radiation within the order. Furthermore, remarkable similarities between these fossils and extant harvestmen implies extensive morphological stasis in the order. Compared with other arachnids--and terrestrial arthropods generally--harvestmen are amongst the first groups to evolve fully modern body plans.
Garwood, Russell JDunlop, Jason AGiribet, GonzaloSutton, Mark DengResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tEngland2011/08/25 06:00Nat Commun. 2011 Aug 23;2:444. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1458.