Three historical phases can be distinguished in the study of brachiopod systematics over the past 75 years. Prior to 1956, systematic neontologists and paleontologists struggled to reconcile differences in perceived evolutionary patterns (and thus classifications) based largely on static morphological differences observed separately among living brachiopods and among fossil brachiopods. Following 1956, patterns of morphological distribution began to be interpreted relative to the processes by which they were formed, and a more dynamic view of brachiopod phylogeny and classification resulted. Over the past decade, newer methodologies (phylogenetic systematics) have allowed older phylogenetic hypotheses to be tested and evaluated. The major challenges that brachiopod systematists now face are not unique to brachiopods; they concern improving the methods of phylogeny (and classification) reconstruction so that all the sources of data available to paleontologists can be utilized more effectively. In the future, I predict that more intensified, global fossil collecting, together with further investigation of the embryology and development of brachiopods, and molecular systematic research, will play an increasingly larger role in revising the classification currently in use.
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