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The stratigraphic distribution of fossils

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2016

Steven M. Holland*
Department of Geology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-2501


In several increasingly realistic steps, a model of the stratigraphic distribution of fossils is presented. The first and simplest step assumes that if a taxon was extant it will have been preserved. The second step admits that if a taxon was extant, there is some probability less than one that it will have been preserved. This step produces randomly distributed gaps, and fossil ranges that are somewhat shorter than the span of time in which a taxon actually lived. The third step assumes facies-controlled taxa and parasequence-style cyclicity. This produces randomly and nonrandomly distributed gaps, including the anomalously long gaps recognized in confidence limit studies. The final model incorporates depositional sequences and indicates that first and last occurrences will cluster at sequence boundaries and at flooding surfaces in the transgressive systems tract. Across-shelf gradients in diversity, taphonomy, or eurytopy can control the strength, but not the stratigraphic position of these peaks. Comparison of the model to data from the Upper Ordovician suggests that these modeled features are present in the fossil record. Many previously studied paleobiologic patterns may be, at least in part, an artifact of facies control and sequence architecture. Such patterns include gradual or stepwise mass extinction, punctuated morphologic and taxonomic change, iterative evolution, and the replacement of shallow water faunas by deeper water faunas at biomere boundaries.

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Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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