Spatial standardization of taxon occurrence data—a call to action

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: This is version 2 of this Preprint.

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Gawain T. Antell , Roger B.J. Benson, Erin E Saupe


The fossil record is spatiotemporally heterogeneous: taxon occurrence data have patchy spatial distributions, and this patchiness varies through time. Large-scale quantitative paleobiology studies that fail to account for heterogeneous sampling coverage will generate uninformative inferences at best and confidently draw wrong conclusions at worst. Explicitly spatial methods of standardization are necessary for analyses of large-scale fossil datasets, because nonspatial sample standardization, such as diversity rarefaction, is insufficient to reduce the signal of varying spatial coverage through time or between environments and clades. Spatial standardization should control both geographic area and dispersion (spread) of fossil localities. In addition to standardizing the spatial distribution of data, other factors may be standardized, including environmental heterogeneity or the number of publications or field collecting units that report taxon occurrences. Using a case study of published global Paleobiology Database occurrences, we demonstrate strong signals of sampling; without spatial standardization, these sampling signatures could be misattributed to biological processes. We discuss practical issues of implementing spatial standardization via subsampling and present the new R package divvy to improve the accessibility of spatial analysis. The software provides three spatial subsampling approaches, as well as related tools to quantify spatial coverage. After reviewing the theory, practice, and history of equalizing spatial coverage between data comparison groups, we outline priority areas to improve related data collection, analysis, and reporting practices in paleobiology.



Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Paleobiology, Paleontology, Statistical Methodology


geographic distribution, sampling standardization, macroecology, quantitative paleobiology, fossil record


Published: 2023-10-20 12:14

Last Updated: 2024-02-05 19:19

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