Abstract

The excellent fossil record of conodonts represents an ideal, yet underutilized, resource for resolving fundamental issues of pattern and process in evolutionary theory. However, this potential has not been exploited because the quantitative understanding of the evolution of conodont element morphology is limited. This work applies standardized morphometric protocols to skeletal elements belonging to the conodont Pterospathodus, derived from a densely sampled section from Estonia. It has established a robust quantitative framework for morphological variation in Pterospathodus, permitting statistical analysis of the current qualitative hypotheses of evolutionary pattern within this genus for the first time. Apparent directional trends were statistically compared with patterns expected for directional evolution, an unbiased random walk and stasis, using maximum-likelihood model fitting, rescaled range analysis, and the runs test. Results confirmed the presence of trends in size and shape change through time, providing an example of convincing directional morphological change in a fossil lineage. The morphometric analyses have also allowed quantitative investigation of ontogenetic processes in Pterospathodus, suggesting that allometric repatterning was the proximal mechanism responsible for mediating the observed shifts in morphology through time. The results have demonstrated that conodonts represent an important resource for understanding evolutionary pattern and process in the fossil record.

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