Major Evolutionary Trends

  • Martin Hughes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Palaeontological data are essential for determining patterns of biological diversity through geological time, enabling the investigation of important macroevolutionary events such as mass extinctions and explosive radiations. Most studies utilise proxies of taxonomic diversity. A more complex undertaking is to assess patterns of morphological variety (disparity) through time, revealing the manner in which groups evolved through their ‘design space’. Many published studies indicate clades tend to reach their maximum disparity early in their evolutionary history. Whether this is a real biological pattern has yet to be tested. Chapter 1 tackles the evolution of disparity in metazoans across the Phanerozoic. The results of a meta-analysis of disparity in 98 extinct clades indicate early high disparity is the most prevalent pattern across the Phanerozoic but finds no clear trends through the Phanerozoic. Mass extinction ended clades were the exception, tending to result in late high disparity.Chapters 2-4 focus on the clade Bivalvia for disparity and diversity analysis. Bivalves are ecologically and taxonomically diverse and have an excellent fossil record but have not been scrutinised using the latest diversity techniques, and have been untouched by disparity analysis. Chapter 2 uses the most up to date stratigraphic ranges and techniques to revise the bivalve Phanerozoic diversity curve. The results show bivalve Phanerozoic diversity is robust to the sampling and fossil record biases examined. Chapter 3 uses data provided as part of collaboration between Martin Hughes, Dr Joseph Carter (University of North Carolina) and Dr Matthew Wills (University of Bath) to address the disparity of bivalves across the Palaeozoic. The results find disparity rises across time but not decreased by mass extinctions. Chapter 4 conducts the first large scale analysis of disparity across latitude. The results find that bivalve disparity across latitude is unchanging and stable compared to the steep gradient of bivalve diversity.
Date of Award29 Nov 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMatthew Wills (Supervisor)


  • macroevolution
  • disparity
  • diversity
  • evolution
  • bivalvia
  • metazoa
  • phanerozoic
  • palaeozoic

Cite this