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Taphonomic biases in the insect fossil record: Shifts in articulation over geologic time

  • Author(s): Karr, JA
  • Clapham, ME
  • et al.

© 2015 The Paleontological Society. All rights reserved. Insect taphonomy is a topic that has drawn interest because of its potential biases on diversity patterns and the ecological information recorded by ancient insect faunas. Other than the onset of common amber fossilization in the Cretaceous, very little is known about long-term trends in the nature and quality of insect preservation and, as a result, the effects of taphonomic biases are poorly constrained. We assembled a database of nearly 7000 Carboniferous-Pliocene insect adpression (compression and impression) species from the primary literature to assess changes in insect taphonomy over time and test biotic and environmental controls on preservation. We grouped the fossils into 10-Myr bins and scored preservation of holotype specimens as either articulated bodies or isolated wings; articulated specimens with a body implied a generally higher quality of preservation. Paleozoic and Triassic insect holotypes are known overwhelmingly from isolated wings (only 12% articulated bodies), but our database shows a significant increase in the percentage preserved as articulated bodies, to more than 70%, beginning about 160 Myr ago in the Late Jurassic. This transition could reflect variations in the robustness of different insect orders and shifts in the taxonomic composition of insect faunas, but all the major orders in the database exhibit significant increases in articulation. Instead, a shift to increased preservation in lacustrine paleoenvironments, which contain a greater proportion of articulated body fossils, explains most of the trend. The pronounced Late Jurassic increase in articulation has implications for evolutionary and ecological reconstructions, for example, suggesting that preserved insect diversity may be biased downward in the earlier part of their history when articulation was poor.

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