Shape analysis of two sympatric coral species: Implications for taxonomy and evolution



Fourier shape analysis of Pleurodictyum americanum and P. dividua, favositid tabulate corals, from the Middle Devonian Hamilton Group of New York State, indicates that colony growth form is variable within species between environments, but that the range of variability in growth form is static through time. Pleurpdictyum dividua displays a columnar morphotype; however, P. dividua and P. americanum cannot be discriminated from one another based on colony shape alone. A major prediction of the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution is morphological stasis throughout the duration of a species. Harmonic means of assemblages of P. americanum show no persistent temporal trends. The range of harmonic means present among the oldest assemblages (Centerfield Limestone) are comparable to those among the youngest assemblages (Windom Shale) and to those in the intervening intervals. Character stasis in colony growth form lasted throughout a 2.5-3.5 my interval. In tabulate corals, where reproductive modes such as fragmentation have not been demonstrated, growth form may be useful in interpreting ancient environments. In addition, the tempo of evolution of growth form can be analyzed when sufficient morphological data are available from a wide distribution of environments. Thus, Fourier shape analysis of growth form provides a powerful tool for paleontologists to interpret the ecology and evolution of colonial marine animals.