Rangeomorph classification schemes and intra-specific variation: are all characters created equal?
Charlotte G. Kenchington, Philip R. Wilby, 2017. "Rangeomorph classification schemes and intra-specific variation: are all characters created equal?", Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier, A. T. Brasier, D. McIlroy, N. McLoughlin
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Rangeomorphs from the Ediacaran of Avalonia are among the oldest known complex macrofossils and our understanding of their ecology, ontogeny and phylogenetic relationships relies on accurate and consistent classification. There are a number of disparate classification schemes for this group, which dominantly rely on a combination of their branching characters and shape metrics. Using multivariate statistical analyses and the diverse stemmed, multifoliate rangeomorphs in Charnwood Forest (UK), we assess the taxonomic usefulness of the suite of characters currently in use. These techniques allow us to successfully discriminate taxonomic groupings without a priori assumptions or weighting of characters and to document a hitherto unrecognized level of variation within single taxonomic groups. Variation within the currently defined genus Primocandelabrum is too great to be realistically assigned to different species and may instead reflect primary character diversity, ontogenetic changes in character state or ecophenotypic variability. Its recognition cautions against generic-level diagnoses based on single differences in character state and will be crucial in understanding the mode of growth of these enigmatic organisms.
Supplementary material: Data tables, definition of the characters used in the analyses, and detailed descriptions and breakdowns of methods and results are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3726937
Gold Open Access: This article is published under the terms of the CC-BY 3.0 license.
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This volume in memory of Professor Martin Brasier, which has many of his unfinished works, summarizes recent progress in some of the hottest topics in palaeobiology including cellular preservation of early microbial life and early evolution of macroscopic animal life, encompassing the Ediacara biota. The papers focus on how to decipher evidence for early life, which requires exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. The papers also apply Martin’s MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils), requiring an integrated approach to understanding fossils. The adoption of the null-hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proven otherwise, and the consideration of putative fossils within their spatial context, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this volume.