The concept of coordinated stasis, manifest as a pattern of long intervals of concurrent taxonomic and ecologic persistence separated by comparatively abrupt periods of biotic change, has been challenged in recent studies that claim a lack of prolonged persistence of taxa and associations. A key problem has been the difficulty of distinguishing faunal change owing to localized, short-term environmental fluctuation or patchiness from that indicating regionally pervasive, long-term evolutionary or ecological change. Here, we use an extensive database from the Middle Devonian Hamilton Group of the Appalachian Basin to test for taxonomic and ecologic persistence within this ecological-evolutionary subunit, a succession of purported relative stability. Replicate samples collected from many localities and stratigraphic horizons over a wide geographic area allow us to address the effects of small-scale environmental variation and localized faunal patchiness while exploring basin-scale variation in faunal composition within and between the formations of the Hamilton Group.
Observed stratigraphic distributions of fossils are consistent with a scenario in which all taxa are present from bottom to top of the Hamilton Group, and absences result only from sampling failure. Although small-scale variation in faunal composition indeed does occur, there is no more variation among formations than occurs within them. Assemblages from different formations, whether they are defined by taxonomic or ecologic composition, are statistically indistinguishable according to several independent metrics, including ANOSIM and a maximum likelihood estimation that evaluates stratigraphic turnover using Bayesian “Information Criterion.” Simulated data sets indicate that test results are most consistent with species-level extinction of 2.6% per Myr within the Hamilton Group, far lower than the Givetian rate of 11.5% per Myr generic extinction derived from a global database. Such faunal persistence over the ~5.5 Myr encompassed by this unit is consistent with the pattern of coordinated stasis. Earlier studies showing greater amounts of temporal turnover in Hamilton Group faunas are likely influenced by their smaller geographic scale of analysis, suggesting that regional studies done elsewhere may yield similar results.