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Article: Completeness of the fossil record and the validity of sampling proxies at outcrop level

Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 55
Part: 6
Publication Date: November 2012
Page(s): 1155 1175
Author(s): Alexander M. Dunhill, Michael J. Benton, Richard J. Twitchett and Andrew J. Newell
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DUNHILL, A. M., BENTON, M. J., TWITCHETT, R. J., NEWELL, A. J. 2012. Completeness of the fossil record and the validity of sampling proxies at outcrop level. Palaeontology55, 6, 1155–1175.

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Most studies of the adequacy of the fossil record have been carried out at a global or continental scale, and they have used sampling proxies that generally do not incorporate all aspects of sampling (i.e. rock volume, accessibility, effort). Nonetheless, such studies have identified positive correlations between apparent diversity and various sampling proxies. The covariation of fossil and rock record signals has been interpreted as evidence for bias or for a common cause, such as sea level change, or as evidence that the signals are in some ways redundant with each other. Here, we compare a number of proxies representing the three main aspects of sampling, (1) sedimentary rock volume, (2) rock accessibility and (3) worker effort, with palaeodiversity in a geographically and stratigraphically constrained data set, the marine Lower Jurassic outcrop of the Dorset and East Devon Coast. We find that the proxies for rock volume and accessibility do not correlate well with the other sampling proxies, nor with apparent diversity, suggesting that the total amount of sedimentary rock preserved does not influence apparent diversity at a local scale, that is, the rock record at outcrop has been sampled efficiently. However, we do find some correlations between apparent diversity and proxies for worker effort. The fact that the proxies do not correlate significantly with each other suggests that none can be regarded as an all-encompassing sampling proxy that covers all aspects of bias. Further, the presence of some correlations between sampling proxies and diversity most probably indicates the bonanza effect, as palaeontologists have preferentially sampled the richest rock units.
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