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Global databases will yield reliable measures of global biodiversity

  • John Alroy (a1)

For decades, paleobiologists have treated global diversity estimation as a straightforward problem (Miller 2000): count up the known higher taxa in each geological time interval, make a diversity curve, and go straight ahead to analyzing and interpreting the trends. However, global diversity curves recently have come under attack from all sides. Some researchers argue that although traditional curves are strongly affected by sampling biases (e.g., Smith 2001; Peters and Foote 2002), these biases can be corrected by assembling large, locality-level databases with detailed contextual information (Alroy et al. 2001). Others point to the large gap between true total global richness and the meager head counts the fossil record has to offer, and conclude that workers should focus exclusively on local and regional diversity (Jackson and Johnson 2001). Here I argue that although further fieldwork surely is needed, understanding global diversity in the short term remains a tractable goal—as long as we move quickly to build a discipline-wide, globally extensive paleontological database.

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