Paleontological data have for long been paramount in providing a long-term perspective on global biodiversity. But all is not as simple and secure as it once seemed. Apparently rapid diversification events recorded in the fossil record have been challenged by new molecular data (Bromham et al. 1999; Wray 2001; reviewed in Smith and Peterson 2002), certain mass extinctions are not as well founded as was previously supposed (Smith et al. 2001; Peters and Foote 2002b), and even such a deeply cherished belief as the long-term trend of increasing diversity through the Phanerozoic is...

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