• Cambrian;
  • Sirius Passet fauna;
  • Pambdelurion;
  • correlated progression;
  • functional morphology;
  • preadaptation;
  • body plans;
  • musculature;
  • arthropods

The ancestor of the arthropods is widely thought to have possessed a hydrostatic skeleton surrounded by peripheral longitudinal and circular musculature, as exhibited by the extant onychophorans. However, the transition to a lever-style musculature system with an articulating exoskeleton poses a difficult problem in functional evolution: did the musculature or the exoskeleton evolve first, and how? Here, by reference to the musculature of the Lower Cambrian stem-group arthropod Pambdelurion, the problem is resolved in terms of preadaptation and functional degeneracy without recourse to saltational notions. Cambrian taxa lying in the stem-groups of the modern phyla may thus be shown to provide unique evidence for the functional progression involved in the assembly of the extant body plans and obviate the need for exotic genetic or developmental mechanisms to explain the evolution of integrated and complex body plans. The notion of the phylum representing a particularly significant level of organization is thereby brought into question.