ABSTRACT

The Avalon assemblage of Newfoundland, Canada contains abundant fossils of enigmatic soft-bodied Ediacaran organisms, many with remarkable preservation. One of the most numerically dominant groups of organisms in the assemblage is the Rangeomorpha, a frondose clade characterized by self-similar, repeating branching architecture known worldwide from rocks of Ediacaran age. Variations in branching characters and gross morphology have historically been used to divide this group, but there has been little consistency in taxonomic approach to the Rangeomorpha, concomitantly there are conflicting opinions that have resulted in some overlapping taxonomic diagnoses. Here we investigate one such taxonomic dispute, the Beothukis/Culmofrons problem. The two genera were recently synonymized into Beothukis based on the assertion that some characters were of different taxonomic rank than others. Subsequent debate has focused on which taxonomic characters displayed by the Rangeomorpha should be used for genus- and species-level subdivision. To test the validity of using continuous versus discrete characters in rangeomorph taxonomy we use a combination of morphometrics and statistical analysis to identify natural clusters within our specimen dataset which was collected from Beothukis sensu lato including material that was, until recently, attributed to Culmofrons. The results of the cluster assignment validates the differentiation between Beothukis mistakensis and Beothukis (Culmofrons) plumosa, but cannot—in isolation—be used to determine at what taxonomic rank that distinction should be made. We demonstrate a considerable degree of variation within Beothukis and Culmofrons, which has not yet been recorded for unifoliate rangeomorph taxa.

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