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Formation binning: a new method for increased temporal resolution in regional studies, applied to the Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossil record of North AmericaThe advent of palaeontological occurrence databases has allowed for detailed reconstruction and analyses of species richness through deep time. While a substantial literature has evolved ensuring that taxa are fairly counted within and between different time periods, how time itself is divided has received less attention. Stage-level or equal-interval age bins have frequently been used for regional and global studies in vertebrate palaeontology. However, when assessing diversity at a regional scale, these resolutions can prove inappropriate with the available data. Herein, we propose a new method of binning geological time for regional studies that intrinsically incorporates the chronostratigraphic heterogeneity of different rock formations to generate unique stratigraphic bins. We use this method to investigate the diversity dynamics of dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of the Western Interior of North America prior to the Cretaceous–Palaeogene mass extinction. Increased resolution through formation binning pinpoints the Maastrichtian diversity decline to between 68 and 66 Ma, coinciding with the retreat of the Western Interior Seaway. Diversity curves are shown to exhibit volatile patterns using different binning methods, supporting claims that heterogeneous biases in this time-frame affect the pre-extinction palaeobiological record. We also show that the apparent high endemicity of dinosaurs in the Campanian is a result of non-contemporaneous geological units within large time bins. This study helps to illustrate the utility of high-resolution, regional studies to supplement our understanding of factors governing global diversity in deep time and ultimately how geology is inherently tied to our understanding of past changes in species richness.
Time for a rethink: time sub-sampling methods in disparity-through-time analysesDisparity‐through‐time analyses can be used to determine how morphological diversity changes in response to mass extinctions, or to investigate the drivers of morphological change. These analyses are routinely applied to palaeobiological datasets, yet, although there is much discussion about how to best calculate disparity, there has been little consideration of how taxa should be sub‐sampled through time. Standard practice is to group taxa into discrete time bins, often based on stratigraphic periods. However, this can introduce biases when bins are of unequal size, and implicitly assumes a punctuated model of evolution. In addition, many time bins may have few or no taxa, meaning that disparity cannot be calculated for the bin and making it harder to complete downstream analyses. Here we describe a different method to complement the disparity‐through‐time tool‐kit: time‐slicing. This method uses a time‐calibrated phylogenetic tree to sample disparity‐through‐time at any fixed point in time rather than binning taxa. It uses all available data (tips, nodes and branches) to increase the power of the analyses, specifies the implied model of evolution (punctuated or gradual), and is implemented in R. We test the time‐slicing method on four example datasets and compare its performance in common disparity‐through‐time analyses. We find that the way we time sub‐sample taxa can change our interpretations of the results of disparity‐through‐time analyses. We advise using multiple methods for time sub‐sampling taxa, rather than just time binning, to gain a better understanding disparity‐through‐time.