Skip to content Skip to navigation

Article: Variable preservation potential and richness in the fossil record of vertebrates

Palaeontology - Vol. 63 Part 2 - Cover Image
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 63
Part: 2
Publication Date: March 2020
Page(s): 313 329
Author(s): Fiona M. Walker, Alexander M. Dunhill, and Michael J. Benton
Addition Information

How to Cite

WALKER, F.M., DUNHILL, A.M., BENTON, M.J. 2020. . Palaeontology, 63, 2, 313-329. DOI: /doi/10.1111/pala.12458

Author Information

  • Fiona M. Walker - School of Earth Sciences University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road Bristol BS8 1RJ UK
  • Alexander M. Dunhill - School of Earth & Environment University of Leeds Leeds LS2 9JT UK
  • Michael J. Benton - School of Earth Sciences University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road Bristol BS8 1RJ UK

Publication History

  • Issue published online: 27 February 2020
  • Manuscript Accepted: 18 August 2019
  • Manuscript Received: 07 May 2019

Funded By

Natural Environment Research Council. Grant Numbers: NE/L501554/1, NE/P013724/1
H2020 European Research Council. Grant Number: Advanced Research Grant 788203
Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship
Leverhulme Trust. Grant Number: Early Career Fellowship ECF‐2015044

Online Version Hosted By

Wiley Online Library (Open Access)
Get Article: Wiley Online Library [Open Access]


Variation in preservation and sampling probability clouds our estimates of past biodiversity. The most extreme examples are Lagerstätten faunas and floras. Although such deposits provide a wealth of information and represent true richness better than other deposits, they can create misleading diversity peaks because of their species richness. Here, we investigate how Lagerstätten formations add to time series of vertebrate richness in the UK, Germany and China. The first two nations are associated with well‐studied fossil records and the last is a country where palaeontology has a much shorter history; all three nations include noted Lagerstätten in their fossil records. Lagerstätten provide a larger proportion of China's sampled richness than in Germany or the UK, despite comprising a smaller proportion of its fossiliferous deposits. The proportions of taxa that are unique to Lagerstätten vary through time and between countries. Further, in all regions, we find little overlap between the taxa occurring in Lagerstätten and in ‘ordinary’ formations within the same time bin, indicating that Lagerstätten preserve unusual faunas. As expected, fragile taxa make up a greater proportion of richness in Lagerstätten than the remainder of the fossil record. Surprisingly, we find that Lagerstätten account for a minority of peaks in the palaeodiversity curves of all vertebrates (18% in the UK; 36% in Germany and China), and Lagerstätten count is generally not a good overall predictor of the palaeodiversity signal. Vastly different sampling probabilities through taxa, locations and time require serious consideration when analysing palaeodiversity curves.


This paper is based on a chapter in FMW's PhD thesis, funded by NERC doctoral training grant NE/L501554/1 and a British Geological Survey studentship to FMW. AMD was funded by a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (ECF‐2015‐044), AMD and MJB by NERC grant NE/P013724/1, and MJB by ERC Advanced Research Grant INNOVATION. We thank Josten Starrfelt for sharing the TRiPS software and helping to implement it. We also thank editor Phil Mannion and referees Terri Cleary and Christopher Dean for their thorough and very helpful review comments. This is Paleobiology Database publication number 346.

    PalAss Go! URL: | Twitter: Share on Twitter | Facebook: Share on Facebook | Google+: Share on Google+