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Department of Paleobiology

  • David F. Wright
  • Peter Buck Fellow
  • Phone:   202-633-1306
  • Fax:   202-786-2832
  • E-mail Address:   wrightdaat SI dot edu
  • 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. I am especially interested in how evolutionary trees of fossil species can be used to better understand the evolutionary and environmental context of major transitions in Earth history.

In several recent papers, I apply model-based Bayesian methods to estimate evolutionary relationships and divergence times of extinct species (Wright, 2017; Wright and Toom, in press). This "fossil tip-dating" approach 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. This research also helps characterize how ancestor-descendant relationships can be statistically evaluated in the fossil record and provides an evolutionary context for understanding patterns of morphological disparity in the early Paleozoic fossil record. Much of my phylogenetic work utilizes the exceptional fossil record of crinoid echinoderms (sea lilies and feather stars), and has resulted in numerous taxonomic revisions of crinoid higher taxa (see Ausich et al., 2015; Wright, 2017; 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 revision).

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, 2017; Cole et al., in review; Ausich et al., in prep; 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

14. COLE, S.R., AUSICH, W.I., WRIGHT, D.F., AND KONIEKI, J., in review, An echinoderm Lagerstatte from the Upper Ordovician (Katian), Ontario: taxonomic re-evaluation and description of new dicyclic camerate crinoids. Submitted to Journal of Paleontology.

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

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

11. 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, 91: 829-846.

10. WRIGHT, D. F. 2017, Bayesian estimation of fossil phylogenies and the evolution of early to middle Paleozoic crinoids (Echinodermata). Journal of Paleontology, 91: 799-814.

9. 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.

8. 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.

7. 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.

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

5. 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). Progress in Echinoderm Palaeobiology. S. Zamora and I. Rábano (eds.), Cuadernos del museo Geominero, 19, Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, p. 29-32.

4. 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.

3. 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. 

2. 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

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