Conodont research has long been divided between utilitarian applications to solve geological problems versus analysis of their paleobiology. However, recent advances in conodont functional analysis allow these independent stands of research to be unified, decoding the functional implications of their morphological variation. We demonstrate this using synchrotron tomography and finite element analysis, informed by occlusal and microwear analyses, to analyze functionally the classic evolutionary sequence of the genus Polygnathus. Our study shows that the evolution of the platform in Polygnathus occurred to accommodate and dissipate the stress accumulation derived from the tooth-like function that the P1 elements performed, suggesting that this recurrent motif of conodont evolution represents an adaptive response to recurrent functional selective pressures. Our study establishes a framework in which the functional ecology of conodonts can be read from their rich taxonomy and phylogeny, representing an important attempt to understand the role of this abundant and diverse clade in the Phanerozoic marine ecosystems.
- Received 21 November 2015.
- Revision received 28 January 2016.
- Accepted 29 January 2016.
- ©The Authors
Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY license.