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Quantifying the history of biodiversity requires counts of fossil specimens to estimate the number of individuals per taxon in a sample. Counting fragments of individuals may introduce biases that are not present when examining only whole body fossils or other non-repeating skeletal elements that represent a known fraction of an individual (e.g., one valve of a bivalve representing half an individual). This study reports on biases revealed by quantitative comparisons of counts of non-repeating skeletal elements of Pleistocene bivalves (hinge fragments and whole valves) with counts of other shell fragments (non-hinge fragments). Compared to the hinge fragments and whole valves, non-hinge fragments yielded lower measured diversity with specific biases toward large-sized species and species whose shell microstructure was foliated or nacreous. The faunal composition preserved in non-hinge fragments was distinct from that preserved in whole valves and hinge fragments according to multivariate analysis, even though all specimens were drawn from the same sediment bulk samples. These biases should be considered when agglomerating data from multiple studies to address questions about large-scale patterns in the history of life.
The evolution of integumentary structures, particularly in relation to feathers in dinosaurs, has become an area of intense research. Our understanding of the molecular evolution of keratin protein is greatly restricted by the fact that such information is lost during diagenesis and cannot be derived from fossils. In this study, decay and maturation experiments are used to determine if different keratin types or integumentary structures show different patterns of degradation early in their taphonomic histories and if such simulations might advance our understanding of different fossilization pathways. Although different distortion patterns were observed in different filamentous structures during moderate maturation and ultrastructural textures unique to certain types of scales persisted in moderate maturation, neither of these have been observed in fossils. It remains uncertain whether these degradation patterns would ever occur in natural sediment matrix, where microbial and chemical decay happens well before significant diagenesis. It takes some time for remains to be buried, meaning that keratin may not be left for moderate maturation to produce such patterns. Higher, more realistic maturation conditions produce a thick, and water soluble fluid that lacks all morphological and ultrastructural details of the original keratin, suggesting that such textural or distortion patterns are unlikely to be preserved in fossils. Although different degradation patterns among keratinous structures are intriguing, it is unlikely that such information could be recorded in the fossil record. Calcium phosphates and pigments are the surviving components of integumentary structures. Thus, the results here are likely of more relation to the archaeological record than fossil record. Other noteworthy results of these experiments are that melanin may not be the leading factor in determining the rate of microbial decay in feathers but may reduce the rate of degradation from maturation, that the existence of rachis filamentous subunits similar to plumulaceous barbules is supported, and that previously reported dinosaur ‘erythrocytes' may be taphonomic artifacts of degraded organic material.
Peats are commonly used in paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic studies but detailed sedimentological and facies models for peatlands are poorly developed relative to other sedimentary settings. A comparison of the palynology and charcoal abundances in modern and ancient Cenozoic peats (i.e., brown coals) demonstrates that, in a single cycle, their respective flora commonly evolves from inundated wetland assemblages to more elevated and well-drained forest. The repetitive nature of this pattern suggests that the changing floral compositions result from changes in substrate wetness during peatland aggradation in high rainfall settings. In this scenario, floristic changes within the peat are suggested to represent peatland facies that were controlled by the local peat-forming environment. We suggest that peatland aggradation is an important process that may ubiquitously control the floral and environmental changes documented in modern and Holocene ombrogenous peats, brown coal lithotype cycles, and perhaps black coal dulling-upwards cycles.