Abstract Iterative evolution has proved a difficult evolutionary phenomenon to study and interpret. Inferences of causality vary from study to study and quantitatively based phylogenetic reconstruction has never been attempted. In an effort to better understand iterative evolution we employed stratocladistics, gap analysis and disparity analysis to study the case of the Monograptidae in the aftermath of the late Silurian Cyrtograptus lundgreni extinction event. Our combination of gap analytical and stratocladistic techniques allowed us to elucidate the evolutionary relationships between the studied taxa. Based on our stratocladistic results we recommend the generic reassignment of five monograptid taxa. The stratocladistic results, in conjunction with morphological disparity analysis suggest the presence of a persistent developmental potential for the emergence of iteratively evolving characters. This persistent potential appears to be limited by extrinsic ecological constraints, which would have relaxed in the aftermath of the C. lundgreni extinction event. Our findings indicate that iterative evolution in the late Silurian Monograptidae is a product of the interaction of both intrinsic and extrinsic constraints on the acquisition of the iteratively evolving character, with the exact causality being dependent on the particular character.