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Abstract

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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