Silurian vertebrates of Gotland (Sweden) and the Baltic Basin

Sammanfattning: During the Silurian, the Swedish island Gotland was positioned close to the equator and covered by a shallow sea called the Baltic Basin. The sedimentary rocks (predominantly carbonates) comprising most of the island today were initially formed in this warm sea, and the relatively complete succession of rocks often contains fossil fragments and scales from early vertebrates, including heterostracans, anaspids, thelodonts, osteostracans, acanthodians, and a stem-osteichthyan. Fossils of early vertebrates become increasingly more common in younger Silurian rocks, but are mostly represented by fragmentary remains and rarer occurrences of articulated jawless vertebrates (agnathans). However, the record of articulated specimens and jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes) are more numerous in rocks of the following Devonian Period. Isolated peaks of agnathan diversity during the Silurian and disarticulated remains of gnathostomes from this period hint at a cryptic evolutionary history. A micropaleontological approach with broader sampling may provide a better understanding of early vertebrate distribution patterns and hopefully give some insights into this history. The objective of this study was to build upon previous sampling on Gotland and to use established frameworks for disarticulated remains with the aim of making comparisons with similar studies performed in the East Baltic. However, difficulties locating the collections from these previous works necessitated a different focus. Undescribed museum collections and newly sampled material enabled some taxonomical revisions and greatly improved the understanding of vertebrate distribution in the youngest part of the Gotland sequence. It also indicated that this interval may represent the early stages of the diversification of gnathostomes that become increasingly dominant toward the end of the Silurian. Furthermore, the description of samples from partly coeval sections in Poland enabled some preliminary comparisons outside of Gotland, and presented a striking example of restricted environmental occurrences for a thelodont taxon. This is encouraging for future sampling and investigations on Gotland. Together with the establishment of a facies-framework comparable to that developed in the East Baltic and correlations to other areas, this may prove fruitful for an increased understanding of early vertebrate distribution and evolution during the Silurian.