Lineage persistence is as central to biology as evolutionary change. Important questions regarding persistence include: why do some lineages outlive their relatives, neither becoming extinct nor evolving into separate lineages? Do these long-duration lineages have distinctive ecological or morphological traits that correlate with their geologic durations and potentially aid their survival? In this paper, I test the hypothesis that lineages (species and higher taxa) with longer geologic durations have morphologies that are more average than expected by chance alone. I evaluate this hypothesis for both individual lineages with longer durations and groups of lineages with longer durations, using more than 60 published datasets of animals with adequate fossil records. Analyses presented here show that groups of lineages with longer durations fall empirically into one of three theoretically possible scenarios, namely: (1) the morphology of groups of longer duration lineages is closer to the grand average of their inclusive group, that is, their relative morphological distance is smaller than expected by chance alone, when compared with rarified samples of their shorter duration relatives (a negative group morpho-duration distribution); (2) the relative morphological distance of groups of longer duration lineages is no different from rarified samples of their shorter duration relatives (a null group morpho-duration distribution); and (3) the relative morphological distance of groups of longer duration lineages is greater than expected when compared with rarified samples of their shorter duration relatives (a positive group morpho-duration distribution). Datasets exhibiting negative group morpho-duration distributions predominate. However, lineages with higher ranks in the Linnean hierarchy demonstrate positive morpho-duration distributions more frequently. The relative morphological distance of individual longer duration lineages is no different from that of rarified samples of their shorter duration relatives (a null individual morpho-duration distribution) for the majority of datasets studied. Contrary to the common idea that very persistent lineages are special or unique in some significant way, both the results from analyses of long-duration lineages as groups and individuals show that they are morphologically average. Persistent lineages often arise early in a group's history, even though there is no prior expectation for this tendency in datasets of extinct groups. The implications of these results for diversification histories and niche preemption are discussed.
Vol. 61 • No. 4
Vol. 61 • No. 4