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Bedrock geological map predictions for Phanerozoic fossil occurrences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2023

Shan Ye*
Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, U.S.A. E-mail:,
Shanan E. Peters
Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, U.S.A. E-mail:,
*Corresponding author.


Geographically explicit, taxonomically resolved fossil occurrences are necessary for reconstructing macroevolutionary patterns and for testing a wide range of hypotheses in the Earth and life sciences. Heterogeneity in the spatial and temporal distribution of fossil occurrences in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) is attributable to several different factors, including turnover among biological communities, socioeconomic disparities in the intensity of paleontological research, and geological controls on the distribution and fossil yield of sedimentary deposits. Here we use the intersection of global geological map data from Macrostrat and fossil collections in the PBDB to assess the extent to which the potentially fossil-bearing, surface-expressed sedimentary record has yielded fossil occurrences. We find a significant and moderately strong positive correlation between geological map area and the number of fossil occurrences. This correlation is consistent regardless of map unit age and binning protocol, except at period level; the Neogene and Quaternary have non-marine map units covering large areas and yielding fewer occurrences than expected. The sedimentary record of North America and Europe yields significantly more fossil occurrences per sedimentary area than similarly aged deposits in most of the rest of the world. However, geographic differences in area and age of sedimentary deposits lead to regionally different expectations for fossil occurrences. Using the sampling of surface-expressed sedimentary units in North America and Europe as a predictor for what might be recoverable from the surface-expressed sedimentary deposits of other regions, we find that the rest of the globe is approximately 45% as well sampled in the PBDB. Using age and area of bedrock and sampling in North America and Europe as a basis for prediction, we estimate that more than 639,000 occurrences from outside these regions would need to be added to the PBDB to achieve global geological parity in sampling. In general, new terrestrial fossil occurrences are expected to have the greatest impact on our understanding of macroevolutionary patterns.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Paleontological Society

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