The pattern of differential species longevities among five Osagean–Meramecian crinoid clades is analyzed for its evolutionary significance. Differences in mean species longevity between clades may have resulted from species sorting based on eurytopy (niche breadth). In order to test the relationship between longevity and eurytopy it was first necessary to recognize generalists (eurytopes) vs. specialists (stenotopes) objectively. Three different approaches were used: (1) the “Eurytopy Index” (EI), which is a measure of mean number of facies per species; (2) analysis of crinoid functional morphology; and (3) use of canonical discriminant analysis to analyze species distributions between facies in order to separate generalists from specialists. Mean species longevity for each clade was evaluated by four different approaches: (1) rarefaction was used to control for differences in sample size, including both species richness and number of occurrences, between clades; (2) potential facies control of species longevity was evaluated by a bootstrap that compared the observed data to a null model where species longevity was limited only by the actual occurrences of each species known facies through time; (3) uniformity of clade species richness through time was evaluated by the “Index of Uniformity for Species Richness” based on the standard deviation of clade species richness across the time intervals; and (4) potential species range truncations were evaluated by a biostratigraphic gap analysis based on the binomial distribution.
The general order of increasing longevity and eurytopy is (from least to most): flexibles, advanced cladids, camerates, disparids, and primitive cladids. In general the pinnulate crinoids (advanced cladids and camerates) were specialists with lower mean species longevity, and the non-pinnulate crinoids (disparids and primitive cladids) were generalists with higher mean species longevity. Pinnulate crinoids were specialized for feeding in high-energy currents and, thus, were limited in their facies distribution and presumably more extinction-prone. The non-pinnulates could feed in both low- and high-energy currents and, thus, were less limited in their facies distribution and presumably less extinction-prone. The flexibles were the exception in that they were non-pinnulate but had the lowest mean species longevity, apparently because they were specialized for deeper-water clastic environments.
On average, generalist clades have mean species longevities that at a minimum are up to 45% (≈1.0 ± 0.7 m.y.) longer than specialist clades. However, greater mean species longevity did not necessarily confer long-term advantages to a clade. The specialist advanced cladids became the dominant crinoid clade of the late Paleozoic and gave rise to the articulate crinoids of the post-Paleozoic. This may have resulted from the more rapid species turnover of stenotopes creating adaptive evolutionary novelties for their clade. Alternatively, it could simply be the result of stochastic processes.
The finer subdivision of niche space by specialists has led previous workers to predict that specialist clades should have higher species richness than generalist clades. The present study supports this prediction.