How Not to be Biased Against Pterosaurs – #365papers – 2017 – 52

#365papers for February 21, 2017

Dean, Mannion, and Butler, 2016, Preservational bias controls the fossil record of pterosaurs: Palaeontology, v. 59, p. 225-247.

What’s it about?

This paper discusses diversity (the number and kinds of species present at any one time) in pterosaurs – the flying reptiles – and how what we think the diversity was might be a product of bias in the rock record. We know that the fossil record is incomplete, but just how incomplete is it?

Why does it matter?

In order to understand patterns of diversity in extinct animals it is important to assess how much of the pattern is due to bias. Bias can occur because the scientists doing the sampling have a preference or just don’t notice some kinds of fossils (for example, a size bias). Bias can also occur because the rocks present represent a different environment from which the animals would have been living. Or, it’s possible that the rock units just haven’t been searched enough. There’s also the possibility of preservational bias, wherein the organisms themselves have body parts that aren’t likely to be fossilized. This paper studies all of these in detail for pterosaurs.

Why did I read this?

This is another paper I discovered when trying to find a paper appropriate for my paleontology class to read. Bias is a topic we’ve discussed, and diversity is coming up soon. This might be a good paper for them to look at.

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