A large body of paleontological literature concerns the importance of ontogeny as a source of morphological variation for evolution; morphologies that appear during one stage of an organism's development are made available for use in another simply by modifying the developmental program. Paleontologists need to know why this occurs, so they can study the process of evolution in extinct animals and so they can discuss the fossil record in terms that are applicable to modern forms. If most cases of heterochrony can be attributed to life-history evolution then the fossil record provides evidence of the nature of selection (in particular the age-specific mortality) that extinct animals experienced. The hypothesis of interest here is that species in which maturity is accelerated will also show generalized morphology and small size, while those with delayed maturity will have more specialized morphology and large size.
Four species of the ostracode genus Cyprideis were studied to determine whether differences in age at maturity are correlated with heterochrony in the expected manner. For each species the changes in size and shape through geological time were evaluated in the statistical context of modern geographic and seasonal variation. Living populations were sampled regularly to detect differences in seasonality and to estimate the duration of development.
Evolution of ontogeny is apparent at the level of species in this group, but it is not simply related to differences in life-history. In comparisons among species, we find evidence of heterochrony where there is no difference in the age at maturity, and a difference in age at maturity where there is no heterochrony. Similarly, three of the four species show the expected positive correlation between size and age at maturity, yet the fourth species is relatively large and matures rapidly. Cyprideis does not support the generalization that life-history evolution causes heterochrony, and casts doubt on the inference of life-history evolution from heterochrony where the data are drawn exclusively from extinct forms.