Incompleteness of the Fossil Record affects Biodiversity

Images: (click to enlarge)

The fossil record is clearly incomplete; the vast majority of organisms die without leaving a trace. But does this have any effect on the big picture of large-scale biodiversity, and how it changes through time? Motohiro Yogo, Charles R. Marshall and myself showed that indeed this incomplete preservation has significant effects. Earlier work suggested that, following a mass-extinction in which a lot of species were wiped out, it took a long time to recover back to a high level of biodiversity, due to an unexplained "speed limit" on recovery. By analyzing a data set, prepared by Michael Foote, that corrects for the incompleteness of the fossil record, we found that the speed limit entirely disappears. Our work thus demonstrates that the speed limit may in fact be an artifact of incomplete preservation.

“Speed Limit Lifted on the Pace of Evolution,” Science  (Feb 2006)

Peter J. Lu  |  Harvard University  |  Cambridge, MA 02138 USA |