Osteology, fossil record and palaeodiversity of the European lizards

Article · February 2017with138 Reads
DOI: 10.1163/15685381-00003085
The capability of palaeontologists to identify fossil remains of a particular group of vertebrates strongly depends on the knowledge they have of its comparative osteology and on the actual presence of diagnostic differences among the considered taxa. This could have a relevant influence on the study of palaeodiversity, since a low recognisability causes a loss of data when trying to reconstruct the history of taxa that lived on Earth in the past. Currently, more than 6000 extant species of lizards and worm lizards are known, and new ones continue to be discovered, mainly based on molecular data. But are we able to recognise this high diversity using osteology? As far as European taxa are concerned, the osteological recognisability of non-snake squamates is very low: only 31% of the extant European taxa can be identified based on their skeletal morphology. This is balanced partially by the fact that most recognisable taxa have been actually recognised in the fossil record, suggesting that the lost data are mainly due to the scarce knowledge of the comparative osteology of these reptiles and less influenced by other biases, such as taphonomic or collection biases. In this context, specimen-level phylogenetic analysis has proved to be a useful tool to identify diagnostic combinations of osteological features, at least for lacertid species, as evidenced by a case study focused on the genus Lacerta.
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  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: : Most studies of the adequacy of the fossil record have been carried out at a global or continental scale, and they have used sampling proxies that generally do not incorporate all aspects of sampling (i.e. rock volume, accessibility, effort). Nonetheless, such studies have identified positive correlations between apparent diversity and various sampling proxies. The covariation of fossil and rock record signals has been interpreted as evidence for bias or for a common cause, such as sea level change, or as evidence that the signals are in some ways redundant with each other. Here, we compare a number of proxies representing the three main aspects of sampling, (1) sedimentary rock volume, (2) rock accessibility and (3) worker effort, with palaeodiversity in a geographically and stratigraphically constrained data set, the marine Lower Jurassic outcrop of the Dorset and East Devon Coast. We find that the proxies for rock volume and accessibility do not correlate well with the other sampling proxies, nor with apparent diversity, suggesting that the total amount of sedimentary rock preserved does not influence apparent diversity at a local scale, that is, the rock record at outcrop has been sampled efficiently. However, we do find some correlations between apparent diversity and proxies for worker effort. The fact that the proxies do not correlate significantly with each other suggests that none can be regarded as an all-encompassing sampling proxy that covers all aspects of bias. Further, the presence of some correlations between sampling proxies and diversity most probably indicates the bonanza effect, as palaeontologists have preferentially sampled the richest rock units.
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February 18, 2017
University of Bologna
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