The fossil record and macroevolutionary history of North American ungulate ungulate mammals: standardizing variation in intensity and geography of sampling
The record of the taxonomic evolution of North American ungulates is critical to our understanding of mammalian evolution and environmental change throughout the Cenozoic. The distribution of sampling in the ungulate fossil record over time and geographic space and the degree to which this biases the observed patterns of taxonomic evolution is poorly understood. To address these issues, I placed fossil collections and occurrences drawn from the Paleobiology Database into 2-Myr time intervals between 55 and 1 Ma. I determined the variation in numbers of fossil collections and occurrences, using three metrics to measure geographic variation: first, the area of the convex hull containing all collections in an interval, to determine the areal coverage of sampling; second, the mean pairwise geographic distance among collections as a measurement of the dispersion of collections within that area; and third, the interval-to-interval migration of the geographic centroid of all collections, to calculate changes in the geographic location of sampling. Each of these showed considerable variation over the Cenozoic, and both the area of the convex hull (ACH) encompassing all collections in an interval, and mean pairwise distance (MPWD) among them showed increasing trends over time.
To minimize the effect of variation in numbers of fossil samples over time, I used standard sample-standardization procedures. To minimize the effect of geographic variation in sampling over time, I standardized the area of sampling among intervals. I also employed both standardizations sequentially. Each standardization procedure had surprisingly little effect on observed patterns of taxonomic richness and rates. This indicates that, for North American ungulates, neither variation in number nor geographic distribution of fossil samples exerts an overwhelming influence on perceived macroevolutionary patterns. These results confirm the ungulate fossil record as a critical and faithful record for our understanding of Cenozoic environmental change and the mammalian evolutionary response.