PerspectivePaleontology

What Drives Biodiversity Changes?

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Science  25 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6059, pp. 1073-1074
DOI: 10.1126/science.1214829

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Summary

To understand today's biodiversity (1), biologists must understand fossil diversity. What has controlled patterns of biodiversity through the past ∼550 million years? How reliably does the fossil record preserve these patterns? To answer the first of these questions, paleontologists must first answer the second. It now seems that the fossil record may do more than simply impose a set of biases on the preserved history of life. Instead, common-cause factors may have simultaneously affected both the nature of the fossil record and true biodiversity. If this is correct, then the challenge is to tease apart bias from common signal from cause-and-effect.