Colonial history and global economics distort our understanding of deep-time biodiversity

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Nussaïbah B. Raja , Emma M Dunne , Aviwe Matiwane , Tasnuva Ming Khan , Paulina S Nätscher , Aline M Ghilardi , Devapriya Chattopadhyay 


Sampling variations in the fossil record distort estimates of past biodiversity. However, compilations of global fossil occurrences used in these analyses not only reflect the geological and spatial aspects of the fossil record, but also the historical collation of these data. Here, we demonstrate how the legacy of colonialism as well as socio-economic factors such as wealth, education and political stability impact research output in paleontology. Re- searchers in high or upper middle income countries contribute to 97% of fossil occurrence data, not only leading to spatial sampling biases but also generating a global power imbalance within the discipline. This work illustrates that our efforts to mitigate the effects of sampling biases to obtain a truly representative view of past biodiversity are not disconnected from the aim of diversifying our field.



Earth Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


biodiversity, research ethics, sampling biases, scientific colonialism


Published: 2021-06-24 16:06

Last Updated: 2022-01-01 00:36

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
The full dataset will be made available upon full publication. At the moment, a version of the data is available to explore via the Paleobiology Database webpage, as described in the methods section.