The spatial structure of Phanerozoic marine animal diversity

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Science  24 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6489, pp. 420-424
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay8309

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Across time, but also across space

Fossils, especially those from marine systems, have long been used to estimate changes in patterns of diversity over time. However, fossils are patchy in their occurrence, so such temporal estimates generally have not included variations due to space. Such a singular examination has the potential to simplify, or even misrepresent, patterns. Close et al. used a spatially explicit approach to measure diversity changes in marine fossils across time and space. They found that, like modern systems, diversity varies considerably across space, with reefs increasing diversity levels. Accounting for this spatial-environmental variation will shed new light on the study of diversity over time.

Science, this issue p. 420


The global fossil record of marine animals has fueled long-standing debates about diversity change through time and the drivers of this change. However, the fossil record is not truly global. It varies considerably in geographic scope and in the sampling of environments among intervals of geological time. We account for this variability using a spatially explicit approach to quantify regional-scale diversity through the Phanerozoic. Among-region variation in diversity is comparable to variation through time, and much of this is explained by environmental factors, particularly the extent of reefs. By contrast, influential hypotheses of diversity change through time, including sustained long-term increases, have little explanatory power. Modeling the spatial structure of the fossil record transforms interpretations of Phanerozoic diversity patterns and their macroevolutionary explanations. This necessitates a refocus of deep-time diversification studies.

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