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? We show that, indeed, this incomplete preservation has significant effects. Earlier work suggested that, following a mass-extinction in which many species were wiped out, biodiversity took many tens of millions of years to recover, due to an unexplained “speed limit” on recovery. However, when performing the analysis on a data set (prepared by Prof. Mike Foote) that corrects for the incompleteness of the fossil record, we find that the speed limit entirely disappears. Our work suggests that the so-called “speed limit” may in fact be an artifact of incomplete preservation.
- Peter J. Lu, Motohiro Yogo, Charles R. Marshall, “Phanerozoic marine biodiversity dynamics in light of the incompleteness of the fossil record” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103, 2736–2739 (2006). [pdf]