Fossil bivalves and the sclerochronological reawakening

David K. Moss, Linda C. Ivany, Douglas S. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The field of sclerochronology has long been known to paleobiologists. Yet, despite the central role of growth rate, age, and body size in questions related to macroevolution and evolutionary ecology, these types of studies and the data they produce have received only episodic attention from paleobiologists since the field's inception in the 1960s. It is time to reconsider their potential. Not only can sclerochronological data help to address long-standing questions in paleobiology, but they can also bring to light new questions that would otherwise have been impossible to address. For example, growth rate and life-span data, the very data afforded by chronological growth increments, are essential to answer questions related not only to heterochrony and hence evolutionary mechanisms, but also to body size and organism energetics across the Phanerozoic. While numerous fossil organisms have accretionary skeletons, bivalves offer perhaps one of the most tangible and intriguing pathways forward, because they exhibit clear, typically annual, growth increments and they include some of the longest-lived, non-colonial animals on the planet. In addition to their longevity, modern bivalves also show a latitudinal gradient of increasing life span and decreasing growth rate with latitude that might be related to the latitudinal diversity gradient. Is this a recently developed phenomenon or has it characterized much of the group's history? When and how did extreme longevity evolve in the Bivalvia? What insights can the growth increments of fossil bivalves provide about hypotheses for energetics through time? In spite of the relative ease with which the tools of sclerochronology can be applied to these questions, paleobiologists have been slow to adopt sclerochronological approaches. Here, we lay out an argument and the methods for a path forward in paleobiology that uses sclerochronology to answer some of our most pressing questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-573
Number of pages23
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 7 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Palaeontology


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