Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer
Type: Article
Published: 2019-10-21
Page range: 146–158
Abstract views: 328
PDF downloaded: 268

Comparison of 2D SEM imaging with 3D micro-tomographic imaging for phylogenetic inference in brittle stars (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea)

Swedish Museum of Natural History, Dept of Zoology, Box 50007, 10405 Stockholm, Sweden
Yale University, Dept of Geology and Geophysics, 210 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT 06511, USA
Natural History Museum Luxembourg, Dept of Palaeontology, 25 rue Münster, 2160 Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Vanderbilt University, Dept of Earth and Environmental Science, 5726 Stevenson Center, Nashville, TN 37240, USA
Echinodermata Morphology taxonomy micro-CT synchrotron imaging X-ray microscopy


Recent efforts to reconstruct the phylogeny of brittle stars (ophiuroids) have shown the need for more objective and reproducible data collection methods than the traditional visual examination and verbal description of morphological characters. Complex skeletal structures may be better understood in three dimensions than in two dimensions obtained from techniques like scanning electron microscopy (SEM). We test this hypothesis using three types of three-dimensional tomographic imaging methods—lab-based micro-CT, X-ray microscopy and synchrotron-based tomography—to examine the morphology of ophiuroid arms, and compare them with two-dimensional data obtained from SEM. We describe the advantages and disadvantages of each instrument and set of parameters in terms of the ease and efficiency of data collection for morphometric analyses. We present new morphological observations obtained by digital sectioning of three-dimensional images that could not be achieved with SEM. Overall, our findings suggest that three-dimensional imaging has a high potential to address the gaps in knowledge of the internal ophiuroid skeleton, which will be pivotal to providing morphological characters that will aid in phylogenetic reconstructions.