Global biodiversity dynamics result in large-scale patterns of change in the variety of life on earth. One deceptively simple measure of global biodiversity is the total count of species or supraspecific taxa that have been described from each subinterval of the Phanerozoic record. These tallies usually are obtained from data compilations based on extensive literature searches supplemented with examination of collections in museums (Sepkoski 1993; Alroy et al. 2001). Such measures of global biodiversity dynamics are probably not meaningless, but it is difficult to understand what they mean. The number of taxa alive on Earth at any...

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