Artiopodan euarthropods represent common and abundant faunal components in sites with exceptional preservation during the Cambrian. The Chengjiang biota in South China contains numerous taxa that are exclusively known from this deposit, and thus offer a unique perspective on euarthropod diversity during the early Cambrian. One such endemic taxon is the non-trilobite artiopodan Sinoburius lunaris, which has been known for approximately three decades, but few details of its anatomy are well understood due to its rarity within the Chengjiang, as well as technical limitations for the study of these fossils. Furthermore, the available material does not provide clear information on the ventral organization of this animal, obscuring our understanding of phylogenetically significant details such as the appendages.
We employed X-ray computed tomography to study the non-biomineralized morphology of Sinoburius lunaris. Due to the replacement of the delicate anatomy with pyrite typical of Chengjiang fossils, computed tomography reveals substantial details of the ventral anatomy of Sinoburius lunaris, and allow us to observe in detail the three-dimensionally preserved appendicular organization of this taxon for the first time. The dorsal exoskeleton consists of a crescent-shaped head shield with well-developed genal spines, a thorax with seven freely articulating tergites, and a fused pygidium with lateral and median spines. The head bears a pair of ventral stalked eyes that are accommodated by dorsal exoskeletal bulges, and an oval elongate ventral hypostome. The appendicular organization of the head is unique among Artiopoda. The deutocerebral antennae are reduced, consisting of only five podomeres, and bear an antennal scale on the second podomere that most likely represents an exite rather than a true ramus. The head includes four post-antennal biramous limb pairs. The first two biramous appendages are differentiated from the rest. The first appendage pair consists of a greatly reduced endopod coupled with a greatly elongated exopod with a potentially sensorial function. The second appendage pair carries a more conventionally sized endopod, but also has an enlarged exopod. The remaining biramous appendages are homonomous in their construction, but decrease in size towards the posterior end of the body. They consist of a basipodite with ridge-like crescentic endites, an endopod with seven podomeres and a terminal claw, and a lamellae-bearing exopod with a slender shaft. Contrary to previous reports, we confirm the presence of segmental mismatch in Sinoburius lunaris, expressed as diplotergites in the thorax. Maximum parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses support the monophyly of Xandarellida within Artiopoda, and illuminate the internal relationships within this enigmatic clade. Our results allow us to propose a transformation series explaining the origin of archetypical xandarellid characters, such as the evolution of eye slits in Xandarella spectaculum and Phytophilaspis pergamena as derivates from the anterolateral notches in the head shield observed in Cindarella eucalla and Luohuilinella species. In this context, Sinoburius lunaris is found to feature several derived characters within the group, such as the secondary loss of eye slits and a high degree of appendicular tagmosis. Contrary to previous findings, our analyses strongly support close affinities between Sinoburius lunaris, Xandarella spectaculum and Phytophilaspis pergamena, although the precise relationships between these taxa are sensitive to different methodologies.
The revised morphology of Sinoburius lunaris, made possible through the use of computed tomography to resolve details of its three-dimensionally preserved appendicular anatomy, contributes towards an improved understanding of the morphology of this taxon and the evolution of Xandarellida more broadly. Our results indicate that Sinoburius lunaris possesses an unprecedented degree of appendicular tagmosis otherwise unknown within Artiopoda, with the implication that this iconic group of Palaeozoic euarthropods likely had a more complex ecology and functional morphology than previously considered. The application of computer tomographic techniques to the study of Chengjiang euarthropods holds exceptional promise for understanding the morphological diversity of these organisms, and also better reconstructing their phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history.