Demineralization assays, utilizing weak acids to isolate organics from biomineralized tissues, have recently been applied with increasing frequency to explore soft tissue preservation in fossils, revealing frequent retention of cells and other pliable microstructures in fossil bones. However, factors controlling long-term preservation of such labile structures remain mysterious. To address this, we compiled a database of bone demineralization results from 29 studies, then conducted a statistical meta-analysis of these data to evaluate the importance of specimen age, taxonomy, entombing lithology, and bone tissue type on microstructure recovery. Our database encompasses results from 137 bones from 44 formations spanning the Permian to the Holocene. Osteocytes, blood vessels, and fibrous/proteinaceous matrix each exhibit bimodal recovery patterns in which most fossil bones either yield many or none of these microstructures. Though their relative abundances in any given fossil bone are extremely variable, statistically significant Fisher's Exact tests found that if a bone yields one of these types of microstructures in abundance then the others are usually also abundant. None of the variables examined significantly influence osteocyte recovery, but Kruskal-Wallis and subsequent pairwise Mann-Whitney tests revealed that bones collected from unconsolidated sediments, of Paleocene age, and/or deriving from birds, amphibians, marine reptiles, or crocodylians often yield few or no vessels and fibrous matrix. Although these findings hint at possible controls on cellular and soft tissue preservation in fossil bones, they should be viewed cautiously as they are demonstrably biased by uneven sampling. For example, many of the apparent trends are substantially controlled by overrepresentation of data from nonavian dinosaur specimens from Cretaceous fluvio-lacustrine deposits. Future demineralization assays should therefore focus on non-mammalian specimens from the Cenozoic and Jurassic-and-older nondinosaurian specimens, especially those preserved in less-common depositional environments (e.g., eolian settings).

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