Stratocladistics combines morphological and stratigraphic data in a parsimony-based analysis of evolutionary relationships. We use stratocladistics here to provide an overview of the phylogeny of the extinct echinoderm class Blastoidea. Both cladistic and stratocladistic methods evaluate alternative phylogenies by comparing the number of ad hoc hypotheses needed to reconcile each alternative to observed data. Minimization of ad hoc hypotheses selects the phylogeny best supported by data and enables phylogenetic analyses to incorporate data from different sources. Cladistics treats ad hoc hypotheses of homoplasy, whereas stratocladistics additionally considers ad hoc hypotheses of differential preservation probability of lineages in the stratigraphic record.
The blastoid phylogeny derived using stratocladistics is more resolved than hypotheses selected by cladistics. Although the morphological characters are relatively homoplasious, in this instance the stratigraphic ordering of fossils provides both structure and altered polarity for the stratocladistic hypothesis. The stratocladistic phylogeny supports previous paleontological conclusions of convergence among blastoid lineages and facilitates evaluation of specific hypotheses of character transformation that are integral to recent systematic revisions. Additionally, consideration of temporal data makes some hypotheses of ancestor-descendant relationships more parsimonious than hypotheses of derivation from a common ancestor. The ability to recognize sequential members within single lineages allows more accurate estimation of faunal diversities and more specific reconstruction of evolutionary histories. Chief among possible confounding factors in stratocladistics are instances where preservation potential shows significant geographic variation, although problems of preservation are more tractable than the difficulties homoplasy presents for cladistic analysis.