• Tetradium;
  • rhodophyte;
  • palaeoecology;
  • phenotypic variation;
  • Ordovician

Comparisons of morphologies and modes of life of the Ordovician fossil Tetradium Dana, 1846, with chaetetid sponges, tabulate corals, and Recent rhodophytes show that several defining Tetradium characteristics are incompatible with its chaetetid and tabulate classifications. All Tetradium characteristics fit a rhodophyte identification, however, as a calcified uniaxial corticated florideophyte. It is argued from functional morphology that the fundamental subsquare cross-section of the Tetradium tube is an adaptation for close packing, which implies that the basic growth form is compact and should have developed where conditions were optimal. More open forms are derived from it and probably occupied less-favourable environments.

Palaeoecological studies from the Ottawa Valley, Canada, show that the Tetradium growth form is correlated with environmental stress and became more open as salinity increased: i.e. the compact T. fibratum form lived in normal marine conditions, radiating bundles of T. cellulosum tubes in low to middle hypersalinity and single T. syringoporoides tubes in high hypersalinity. Different Tetradium growth forms from the study area are phenotypic variants of a single species, rather than different species and genera. Therefore, classifications that divide Tetradium into different species and genera based only on growth form have no biological basis. There is little evidence of interspecific interactions with Tetradium.