Substantial geographic coverage in paleontological study is essential in testing evolutionary models of phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. We present a multivariate morphometric study of the late Neogene planktonic foraminiferal clade Globoconella using specimens from four Deep Sea Drilling Project sites (DSDP 284, 207A, 208, and 588) along a latitudinal traverse in the southwest Pacific.
During the Late Miocene (7 Ma to 5 Ma), populations of the ancestral species Globorotalia (Globoconella) conomiozea formed a geographic cline showing continuous morphological variation from the temperate sites (DSDP 284 and 207A) to the warm subtropical sites (DSDP 208 and 588). Populations living to the south had higher conical angle and fewer chambers in the final whorl compared to the northern populations. Nevertheless, populations across the entire cline exhibited a coherent, directional trend towards having larger conical angle and fewer chambers through time. At the Miocene/Pliocene boundary, the intensification of the Tasman Front (Subtropical Divergence) possibly isolated the peripheral populations in the warm subtropics from the central stocks of the temperate water masses. The evolutionary trends became decoupled: the central populations gradually lost their keel and transformed into G. (G.) sphericomiozea, while the peripheral populations in the warm subtropical areas retained their keel and evolved into a flattened species, G. (G.) pliozea.
The gradual transformation of G. (G.) conomiozea terminalis (a form retaining a keel) into G. (G.) sphericomiozea (a form lacking a keel) occurred during an interval of about 0.2 m.y., with all measured morphologic variables showing continuous and steady changes. The evolution of the central populations follows the model of phyletic gradualism. In peripheral populations, the origin of the descendant species G. (G.) pliozea from the ancestor G. (G.) conomiozea terminalis occurred very rapidly within an interval of less than 0.01 m.y. The population size of G. (G.) pliozea was small at the incipient stage at about 5.05 Ma, but increased rapidly to become dominant during the next 0.2 m.y. when the ancestral species G. (G.) conomiozea terminalis became locally extinct. Following speciation, G. (G.) pliozea exhibited morphological stasis for about 0.6 m.y., until the central stock form G. (G.) puncticulata migrated back to the warm subtropics; during the next 0.5 m.y. of their sympatry, there is no sign of hybridization between these two sister species. The evolution of G. (G.) pliozea follows the model of punctuated equilibrium.
The evolution of the Globoconella clade shows both phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. These two “alternative” evolutionary models complement each other rather than being mutually exclusive. Both models are indispensable towards providing a complete picture of the evolution of Globoconella.