Abstract

Did organisms diversify in different ways on land and in the marine realm over the Phanerozoic, or do the different diversification curves of continental and marine organisms reflect primarily methodological artifacts? To answer this question, a quantitative assessment of the completeness of the global continental fossil record is indispensable. We used comparisons between continental and marine fossil diversity and between past and present-day patterns of continental diversity to assess the absolute and relative completeness of the continental fossil record. Collector's curves of the number of described families over the past 200 years suggest that the global continental fossil record, and even that of European and North American tetrapods, is still highly incomplete. Nevertheless, relative proportions of major continental and marine taxa, patterns of tetrapod endemism, and familial durations suggest that the family-level continental fossil record is reasonably representative. We found that, although continental fossil richness is correlated with the amount of terrestrial clastic sediment available for sampling, the exponential diversification curve of continental metazoans is unlikely to be an artifact of this rock bias. Diversification of the continental fauna appears to have been essentially exponential since the Devonian, with little evidence of major extinction events.

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