Short-term Visitor

The evolutionary development of species gradient and hybridization in indo-pacific deep water crinoid populations

PI(s): Aaron W Hunter (PETRONAS University of Technology)
Start Date: 18-Jun-2012
End Date: 31-Jan-2013
Keywords: biodiversity, biogeography, comparative methods, community ecology, database

One of the challenges to understanding biodiversity on our planet is how we define species in the fossil record. This interdisciplinary project will use molecular and morphological phylogenetics to test the taxonomic usefulness and phylogenetic signal of morphological characters commonly used in fossil crinoid taxonomy. Stalked crinoids, or sea lilies, are major components of the fossil fauna, and their overall morphology has changed very little in the past 160 million years. This project aims to bridge the gap between morphological and molecular data by applying the results of combined analyses to paleontology, an arena where morphological data are still critical. Sequence data is becoming more widely available and easy to collect; even the most problematic groups are having robust molecular phylogenies published. This is not the case for paleobiology where only a handful of taxa are suitable for such analyses. Crinoids provide an opportunity to bridge this knowledge gap. Their unique evolutionary history allows us not only to test the biological and morphological species concept in living sister taxa but to apply this data directly to problematic fossil specimens to resolve species designations. For this project we will carry out integrated molecular and morphological analysis to delineate species relations in indo-pacific stalked crinoids, applying these results to fossil taxa from the Jurassic of North America. Our analyses will for the first time try to identify reliable diagnostic characters used to define genera and species within the Indo-Pacific species complex and will provide a framework that can be applied to the fossil record.