Abstract

All else being equal, species with short life spans are expected to be overrepresented in time-averaged death assemblages relative to their standing abundance in the living community, but the magnitude of the distortion of proportional abundance and assemblage evenness has received little attention. Here, information from 30 data sets on the living and dead abundances of marine bivalves in local habitats is combined with a global compilation of bivalve life spans to determine whether bias from mortality rate can explain observed differences in species proportional abundances. Although bivalve maximum life spans range from one to 75 years in these data sets, indicating annual mortality rates of 0.97 to 0.09, the “life span bias” (LB) of a species—the difference between its proportional abundance expected dead and that observed alive—is consistently small in magnitude (average change <2%, maximum about 20%) and random in sign relative to observed discordance (OD  =  difference between that species' proportional abundance observed dead and that observed alive). The aggregate result for 413 living species occurrences is a significantly positive but weak correlation of OD to LB, with only 10% of variation in OD explained. The model performs better among longer-lived species than among shorter-lived species, probably because longer-lived species conform better to the model assumption that species maintain a constant proportional abundance in the living assemblage over time. Among individual data sets, only seven exhibit significant positive correlations between OD and LB. The model also under-predicts the cases where a death assemblage is dominated by a species that is shorter lived than the dominant species in the living assemblage, indicating that some factor(s) other than or in addition to mortality rate is responsible for OD. We can find no evidence of preservational bias linked to life span, for example through body size. This negative outcome reflects a weak biological relationship between life span and living abundance among bivalves in local habitats, contrary to the terrestrial paradigm, and points toward a simpler model of time-averaged death assemblage formation where higher abundances reflect (undersampled) past populations. Contrary to long-held expectations, variation in population turnover among species is not a major source of taphonomic bias in time-averaged death assemblages among bivalves and perhaps among other marine groups: bias must arise largely from other factors.

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