The quality of the fossil record: Populations, species, and communities

Susan M. Kidwell, Karl Flessa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

191 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Paleontologists have always been concerned about the documentary quality of the fossil record, and this has also become an important issue for biologists, who increasingly look to accumulations of bones, shells, and plant material as possible ways to extend the time-frame of observation on species and community behaviors. Quantitative data on the postmortem behavior of organic remains in modern environments are providing new insights into death and fossil assemblages as sources of biological information. Important findings include: 1. With the exception of a few circumstances, usually recognizable by independent criteria, transport out of the original life habitat affects few individuals. 2. Most species with preservable hardparts are in fact represented in the local death assemblage, commonly in correct rank importance. Molluscs are the most durable of modern aquatic groups studied so far, and they show highest fidelity to the original community. 3. Time-averaging of remains from successive generations and communities often prevents the detection of short-term (seasons, years) variability but provides an excellent record of the natural range of community composition and structure over longer periods. Thus, although a complex array of processes and circumstances influences preservation, death assemblages of resistant skeletal elements are for many major groups good to excellent records of community composition, morphological variation, and environmental and geographic distribution of species, and such assemblages can record temporal dynamics at ecologically and evolutionarily meaningful scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-299
Number of pages31
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics
Volume26
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995

Fingerprint

fossil record
fossils
death
community composition
temporal record
shell (molluscs)
fossil assemblage
mollusc
molluscs
biologists
bone
geographical distribution
community structure
bones
shell
habitat
habitats

Keywords

  • Ecology
  • Paleoecology
  • Taphonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)

Cite this

The quality of the fossil record : Populations, species, and communities. / Kidwell, Susan M.; Flessa, Karl.

In: Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1995, p. 269-299.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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