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The preservation potential of terrestrial biogeographic patterns

Cite this dataset

Darroch, Simon; Fraser, Danielle; Casey, Michelle (2021). The preservation potential of terrestrial biogeographic patterns [Dataset]. Dryad.


Extinction events in the geological past are similar to the present-day biodiversity crisis in that they have a pronounced biogeography, producing dramatic changes in the spatial distributions of species. Reconstructing paleobiogeographic patterns from fossils therefore allows us to examine the long-term processes governing the formation of regional biotas, and potentially helps build spatially-explicit models for future biodiversity loss in a potential ‘6th mass extinction’ event. However, the extent to which biogeographic patterns can be preserved in the fossil record is not well understood. Here, we perform a suite of simulations based on the present-day distribution of North American mammals, aimed at quantifying the preservation potential of beta diversity and spatial richness patterns over extinction events of varying intensities, and after applying a stepped series of taphonomic filters. We show that taphonomic biases related to body size are the biggest barrier to reconstructing biogeographic patterns over extinction events, but that these may be compensated for by both the small-mammal record preserved in bird castings, as well as range-expansion in surviving species. Overall our results suggest that the preservation potential of biogeographic patterns is surprisingly high, and thus that the fossil record represents an invaluable dataset recording the changing spatial distribution of biota over key intervals in Earth History.


Simulations-based study that uses the present-day distribution of 374 mammal species across North America, and then simulates fossil preservation, and attempts to reconstruct diversity patterns after applying a stepped series of taphonomic filters.

Usage notes

All data and code required to repeat simulations provided; please refer to the README.txt file for detailed instructions on how to operate R code and reproduce figures.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Award: RGPIN-2018-05305

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation