Evol Ecol Res 18: 7-23 (2017)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

The impact of the Pull of the Recent on the fossil record of tetrapods

Sarda Sahney and Michael J. Benton

School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Correspondence: S. Sahney or M.J. Benton, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK. email: sardasahney@gmail.com or mike.benton@bristol.ac.uk


Question: Why has there been an apparently exponential rise in the global diversity of life on land in the past 120 million years?

Hypothesis: Most of the apparent rise in diversity is an artefact of improved sampling towards the present day. A particular bias, the Pull of the Recent (POR), affects those fossil taxa with living representatives, by artificially inflating their numbers.

Organisms: The fossil record of tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds).

Methods: Compare lists of extant families and genera with totals and proportions that do, and do not, have fossil records in the Plio-Pleistocene.

Results: The POR extends its influence back to the early Eocene, accounting for at most 6.1% of the increase in tetrapod family diversity and 1.3% of generic diversity. Small animals, insectivores, and birds are most affected by the POR, perhaps because of their delicate skeletons.

Conclusion: The POR does not significantly distort the pattern of diversification, suggesting that the massive expansion of tetrapod biodiversity in the past 120 million years is largely a real biological pattern.

Keywords: biodiversity, diversity, fossil record, Pull of the Recent, tetrapods, vertebrates.

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