Recent research has corroborated the long-held view that the diversity of genera within benthic marine communities has increased from the Paleozoic to the Cenozoic as much as three-to fourfold, after mitigating for such biasing influences as secular variation in time-averaging and environmental coverage. However, these efforts have not accounted for the considerable increase in the availability of unlithified fossiliferous sediments in strata of late Mesozoic and Cenozoic age. Analyses presented here on the Cenozoic fossil record of New Zealand demonstrate that unlithified sediments not only increase the amount of fossil material and hence the observed diversity therein, but they also preserve a pool of taxa that is compositionally distinct from lithified sediments. The implication is that a large component of the difference in estimates of within-community diversity between Paleozoic and Cenozoic assemblages may relate to the increased availability of unlithified sediments in the Cenozoic.

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