Abstract

The functional morphology and autecology of leperditicopid arthropods (Ordovician-uppermost Devonian) are analyzed in the light of well-preserved specimens from the Devonian of China and detailed comparisons with recent ostracodes. Leperditicopids were large, bivalved arthropods (adults ranging from 5 to about 50 mm in length) typically with an asymmetric carapace (strong ventral overlap), a complex muscular system (powerful adductors, extrinsic muscles, tendinous structures) whose insertions are preserved as scars on the inner surface of the exoskeleton and steinkerns, and an extensive radiating network of integumental sinuses probably involved in gaseous and ionic exchanges (oxygen uptake and transport, osmoregulation). The conspicuous chevron scars adjacent to the adductor scars are interpreted as the anchoring spots of mandibular tendinous structures possibly involved in the opening mechanism of the valves. The ultrastructure of the carapace is comparable to that of thick-shelled recent myodocopid ostracodes. A review of leperditicopid occurences (depositional environment, associated faunas and floras) shows that the group preferentially occupied very shallow marginal habitats (tidal flats, reef-flats, lagoons, embayments, or estuarian complexes) that were subjected to environmental stress (salinity, temperature, moisture). This ecological range implies specific adaptations (osmoregulation, resistance to desiccation) supported by morphological evidence (e.g., circulatory system, carapace closing system, thick shell). Most leperditicopids had epibenthic lifestyles and were probably detritus feeders. They may have been adapted (powerful mandibles) to scrape food on algal/microbial mats. Their typical pattern of occurrence (monospecificity, large numerical abundance) displays some of the characteristics of opportunistic populations (e.g., recent ostracodes, branchiopods) living in variable environments. Morphological similarities with Ostracoda are important (e.g., muscular and tendinous features, circulatory system, valve overlap, carapace ultrastructure) but taxonomic relationships with that group remain inconclusive because of the lack of evidence from soft parts.

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