Data that accurately capture the spatial structure of biodiversity are required for many paleobiological questions, from assessments of changing provinciality and the role of geographic ranges in extinction and originations, to estimates of global taxonomic or morphological diversity through time. Studies of temporal changes in diversity and global biogeographic patterns have attempted to overcome fossil sampling biases through sampling standardization protocols, but such approaches must ultimately be limited by available literature and museum collections. One approach to evaluating such limits is to compare results from the fossil record with models of past diversity patterns informed by modern relationships between diversity and climatic factors. Here we use present-day patterns for marine bivalves, combined with data on the geologic ages and distributions of extant taxa, to develop a model for Pliocene diversity patterns, which is then compared with diversity patterns retrieved from the literature as compiled by the Paleobiology Database (PaleoDB). The published Pliocene bivalve data (PaleoDB) lack the first-order spatial structure required to generate the modern biogeography within the time available (<3 Myr). Instead, the published data (raw and standardized) show global diversity maxima in the Tropical West Atlantic, followed closely by a peak in the cool-temperate East Atlantic. Either today's tropical West Pacific diversity peak, double that of any other tropical region, is a purely Pleistocene phenomenon—highly unlikely given the geologic ages of extant genera and the topology of molecular phylogenies—or the paleontological literature is such a distorted sample of tropical Pliocene diversity that current sampling standardization methods cannot compensate for existing biases. A rigorous understanding of large-scale spatial and temporal diversity patterns will require new approaches that can compensate for such strong bias, presumably by drawing more fully on our understanding of the factors that underlie the deployment of diversity today.

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