The impact of the species-area relationship on estimates of paleodiversity

PLoS Biology
Anthony D BarnoskyEdward B Davis

Abstract

Estimates of paleodiversity patterns through time have relied on datasets that lump taxonomic occurrences from geographic areas of varying size per interval of time. In essence, such estimates assume that the species-area effect, whereby more species are recorded from larger geographic areas, is negligible for fossil data. We tested this assumption by using the newly developed Miocene Mammal Mapping Project database of western North American fossil mammals and its associated analysis tools to empirically determine the geographic area that contributed to species diversity counts in successive temporal bins. The results indicate that a species-area effect markedly influences counts of fossil species, just as variable spatial sampling influences diversity counts on the modern landscape. Removing this bias suggests some traditionally recognized peaks in paleodiversity are just artifacts of the species-area effect while others stand out as meriting further attention. This discovery means that there is great potential for refining existing time-series estimates of paleodiversity, and for using species-area relationships to more reliably understand the magnitude and timing of such biotically important events as extinction, lineage div...Continue Reading

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Related Concepts

Metazoa
Fossils
Human Geography
Paleontology
Probability
Geographic Information Systems
Biodiversity

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