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Geographic and temporal morphological stasis in the latest Cretaceous ammonoid Discoscaphites iris from the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains


Witts, James et al. (2022), Geographic and temporal morphological stasis in the latest Cretaceous ammonoid Discoscaphites iris from the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains, Dryad, Dataset,


We examine temporal and spatial variation in morphology of the ammonoid cephalopod Discoscaphites iris using a large dataset from multiple localities in the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of the United States Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains, spanning a distance of 2000 km along the paleoshoreline. Our results suggest that the fossil record of D. iris is consistent with no within species net accumulation of phyletic evolutionary change across morphological traits or the lifetime of this species. Correlations between some traits and paleoenvironmental conditions as well as changes in the coefficient of variation may support limited population-scale ecophenotypic plasticity, however where stratigraphic data are available, no directional changes in morphology occur prior to the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary. This is consistent with models of ‘dynamic’ evolutionary stasis. Combined with knowledge of life history traits and paleoecology of scaphitid ammonoids, specifically a short planktonic phase after hatching followed by transition to a nektobenthic adult stage, these data suggest that scaphitids had significant potential for rapid morphological change in conjunction with limited dispersal capacity. It is therefore likely that evolutionary mode in the Scaphitidae (and potentially across the broader ammonoid clade) follows a model of cladogenesis wherein a dynamic morphological stasis is periodically interrupted by more substantial evolutionary change at speciation events. Finally, the lack of temporal changes in our data suggest that global environmental changes (such as those possibly related to the emplacement of the Deccan Traps Large Igneous Province) had a limited effect on the morphology of North American ammonoid faunas during the latest Cretaceous prior to the K/Pg mass extinction event.


We assembled a large morphometric dataset consisting of 328 individual fossil specimens of the scaphitid ammonoid cephalopod Discoscaphites iris collected from nine localities in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, and New Jersey, representing a ~2000 km transect from SW to NE and encompassing the full geographic range of this species. Morphometric parameters were measured on well-preserved adult specimens of two dimorphs (Macroconchs - presumably the female, and microconch, presumably the male). We took up to seven morphometric measurements, and calculated ratios that captured the size, shape, and degree of compression of each of these ammonoid shells from each different locality. We evaluated the coefficient of variation (the standard deviation divided by the mean) for size and shape ratios as well as compression ratios at each locality. We used non-parametric statistical tests [Mann-Whitney U] to evaluate the significance of changes in mean morphological trait values between localities. To correct for multiple comparisons we applied a Bonferroni correction and also controlled for the false discovery rate. We also explored relationships between morphological traits and several environmental variables using linear modelling. All analyses were conducted in the R programming environment.

Usage Notes

Missing morphometric values are highlighted with NA in the dataset.


National Science Foundation, Award: 1924807

American Museum of Natural History and Richard Gilder Graduate School