A priori choices in the detail and breadth of a study are important in addressing scientific hypotheses. In particular, choices in the number and type of characters can greatly influence the results in studies of morphological diversity. A new character suite was constructed to examine trends in the disparity of early Paleozoic crinoids. Character-based rarefaction analysis indicated that a small subset of these characters (~20% of the complete data set) could be used to capture most of the properties of the entire data set in analyses of crinoids as a whole, noncamerate crinoids, and to a lesser extent camerate crinoids. This pattern may be the result of the covariance between characters and the characterization of rare morphologies that are not represented in the primary axes in morphospace. Shifting emphasis on different body regions (oral system, calyx, periproct system, and pelma) also influenced estimates of relative disparity between subclasses of crinoids. Given these results, morphological studies should include a pilot analysis to better examine the amount and type of data needed to address specific scientific hypotheses.

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