Although the 3 genera of living lungfish have different-shaped adult tooth plates, their larval stages have similar patterns of development. The sequence in the pattern of initiation of teeth and their modification through ontogeny in Neoceratodus hatchlings provides a developmental model for fossil hatchling tooth plates (smallest 1–2 mm) recovered as 3-dimensional dentitions from Andreyevichthys. This Late Devonian lungfish demonstrates that these also have a similar dentition pattern and suggests strongly conserved developmental processes. We postulate that a specific pattern of development, derived within lungfish, has been conserved in extant forms through evolution from the earliest known lungfish. The most basal early dipnoan, Diabolepis speratus, is also known from juveniles with tooth plates formed in this pattern.
The lungfish pattern is in marked contrast to the typical linear rows of teeth with lingual replacement for each tooth position, characteristic of most osteichthyan and chondrichthyan dentitions. Uniquely for lungfish, teeth are only added to the lateral ends of the radial rows in the palatal and lingual dentition and are consolidated into dental plates without loss through shedding. It is proposed that this tooth pattern is set up from primordial teeth at the patterning stage of the dentition, one in each dentate region of the larval jaws. Although in post-Devonian lungfish marginal dentate bones are absent in the adult, in both the fossil and extant hatchling, teeth are present and function on some of the marginal bones. This pattern of development and loss is described and we conclude that in both forms it is also based on a radial pattern of successive tooth initiation. We propose that this ontogenetic pattern constrained the phylogenetic pattern of adult form, through evolution of dipnoan dentitions from 360 MYBP until the present. The universality amongst dipnoans and the implications for such a conserved constraint in the developmental module for the dentition is discussed.