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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Oct 7;274(1624):2421-7.

Fossil ghost ranges are most common in some of the oldest and some of the youngest strata.

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Department of Biology and Biochemistry, The University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath, UK.


Biologists routinely compare inferences about the order of evolutionary branching (phylogeny) with the order in which groups appear in the fossil record (stratigraphy). Where they conflict, ghost ranges are inferred: intervals of geological time where a fossil lineage should exist, but for which there is no direct evidence. The presence of very numerous and/or extensive ghost ranges is often believed to imply spurious phylogenies or a misleadingly patchy fossil record, or both. It has usually been assumed that the frequency of ghost ranges should increase with the age of rocks. Previous studies measuring ghost ranges for whole trees in just a small number of temporal bins have found no significant increase with antiquity. This study uses a much higher resolution approach to investigate the gappiness implied by 1,000 animal and plant cladograms over 77 series and stages of the Phanerozoic. It demonstrates that ghost ranges are indeed relatively common in some of the oldest strata. Surprisingly, however, ghost ranges are also relatively common in some of the youngest, fossil-rich rocks. This pattern results from the interplay between several complex factors and is not a simple function of the completeness of the fossil record. The Early Palaeozoic record is likely to be less organismically and stratigraphically complete, and its fossils -- many of which are invertebrates-may be more difficult to analyse cladistically. The Late Cenozoic is subject to the pull of the Recent, but this accounts only partially for the increased gappiness in the younger strata.

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