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Department of Paleobiology

  • David F. Wright
  • Peter Buck Fellow
  • Phone:   202-633-1306
  • Fax:   202-786-2832
  • E-mail Address:   wrightda
  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 121
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th & Constitution NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0121


Ph.D. The Ohio State University, 2016
M.S. Ohio University, 2012
B.S. University of Kansas, 2010

Research Interests

My research revolves around two primary themes: (1) understanding how ecological differences among species affect patterns of biodiversity over geologic time, and (2) assembling a clearer picture of the phylogeny, evolution, and geologic history of marine invertebrates, especially the Crinoidea (Echinodermata). I employ a broad analytical toolkit and am interested in the development and application of quantitative approaches that integrate deep-time fossil data with quantitative approaches in phylogenetic biology.

For example, I recently applied a model-based approach to estimating phylogenies of extinct taxa in a Bayesian framework (Wright, 2017). This "fossil tip-dating" method integrates fossil morphology with stratigraphic data to infer phylogenies (i.e., time-scaled evolutionary trees), while accounting for biologic and geologic parameters known to bias tree estimation, such as the incompleteness of the fossil record. Much of this work utilizes the exceptional fossil record of crinoid echinoderms (sea lilies and feather stars), and my phylogenetic research has resulted in numerous taxonomic revisions of crinoid higher taxa (see Ausich et al., 2015; Wright, et al., 2017).

Other research projects include:

Documenting quantitative estimates of morphologic rates of evolution in Paleozoic crinoids to better understand associations between (1) rates of phenotypic evolution, (2) morphologic disparity, and (3) ecological opportunity associated with large-scale evolutionary radiations (Wright, in review).

Documenting taxonomic diversity of exceptionally preserved fossil crinoids, including in the Ordovician “Brechin lagerstätte” of Ontario and the early the early Paleozoic of the Baltic region (Estonia) (Wright and Toom, in review; Wright et al., in prep).

Combining observations of fossil morphology, phylogenetic methods, and insights from evolutionary developmental biology ("evo-devo") to delineate skeletal homologies among fossil and living species (Wright, 2015).

Assessing biogeographic speciation patterns in Late Ordovician orthide brachiopods using phylogenetic methods [collaboration with Alycia Stigall] (Wright and Stigall, 2013a; Wright and Stigall 2013b; Wright and Stigall, 2014; Stigall et al., 2016).

Investigating whether secular changes in seawater chemistry influenced Phanerozoic biodiversity of CaCO3 skeletonized taxa. The goal of this research is to experimentally test for covariation between Mg/Ca ratios of seawater and regeneration rates in living ophiuroid echinoderms (Cole et al., in prep). [collaborative project with Jeff Thompson and Lena Cole]

Personal Research Web Site:

Recent Publications

WRIGHT, D. F and TOOM, U. in review, New crinoids from the Baltic region (Estonia): fossil tip-dating phylogenetics constrains the origin and Ordovician–Silurian diversification of the Flexibilia (Echinodermata). Palaeontology.

WRIGHT, D. F. in review, Phenotypic innovation and adaptive constraints in the evolutionary radiation of Palaeozoic crinoids. Scientific Reports.

WRIGHT, D. F., W. I. AUSICH, S. R. COLE, M. E. PETER, and E. C. RHENBERG. 2017, Phylogenetic taxonomy and classification of the Crinoidea (Echinodermata). Journal of Paleontology, pubished online doi:10.1017/jpa.2016.142.

WRIGHT, D. F. 2017, Bayesian estimation of fossil phylogenies and the evolution of early to middle Paleozoic crinoids (Echinodermata). Journal of Paleontology, published online doi:10.1017/jpa.2016.141.

STIGALL, A. L., J. E. BAUER, A. R. LAM, and D. F. WRIGHT. 2016. Biotic immigration events, speciation, and the accumulation of biodiversity in the fossil record. Global and Planetary Change, 148: 242-257.

WRIGHT, D. F.  2015. Fossils, homology, and “Phylogenetic Paleo-ontogeny”: a reassessment of primary posterior plate homologies in fossil and living crinoids with insight from developmental biology. Paleobiology, 41:570-591.

AUSICH, W. I., T. W. KAMMER, E. C. RHENBERG, and D. F. WRIGHT. 2015. Early phylogeny of crinoids within the Pelmatozoan clade. Palaeontology, 58, 937-952.

WRIGHT, D. F. and W. I. AUSICH. 2015. From the stem to the crown: phylogeny and diversification of pan-cladid crinoids. Pp. 199-202 in Progress in Echinoderm Palaeobiology. S. ZAMORA and I. RÁBANO (eds.), Cuadernos del museo Geominero, 19, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, 292 pp.

AUSICH, W. I., T. W. KAMMER, D. F. WRIGHT, S. R. COLE, M. E. PETER, and E. C. RHENBERG. 2015. Toward a phylogenetic classification of the Crinoidea (Echinodermata). Pp. 29-32 in Progress in Echinoderm Palaeobiology. S. ZAMORA and I. RÁBANO (eds.), Cuadernos del museo Geominero, 19, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, 292 pp.

WRIGHT, D. F. and A. L. STIGALL, 2014. Species-level phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician orthid brachiopod genus Glyptorthis. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 12: 893-906.

WRIGHT, D. F. and A. L. STIGALL, 2013. Phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician orthid brachiopod genera Plaesiomys and Hebertella from North America. Journal of Paleontology, 87: 1107-1128. 

WRIGHT, D. F. and A. L. STIGALL, 2013. Geological drivers of Late Ordovician faunal change in Laurentia: investigating links between tectonics, speciation, and biotic invasions. PLoS ONE, 8(7): e68353. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068353

WRIGHT, D. F. and P. A. SELDEN, 2011. A Trigonotarbid arachnid from the Pennsylvanian of Kansas. Journal of Paleontology, 85: 871-876.