The fossil record and macroevolutionary history of the beetles

Dena M. Smith, Jonathan D. Marcot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coleoptera (beetles) is the most species-rich metazoan order, with approximately 380 000 species. To understand how they came to be such a diverse group, we compile a database of global fossil beetle occurrences to study their macroevolutionary history. Our database includes 5553 beetle occurrences from 221 fossil localities. Amber and lacustrine deposits preserve most of the beetle diversity and abundance. All four extant suborders are found in the fossil record,with 69% of all beetle families and 63% of extant beetle families preserved. Considerable focus has been placed on beetle diversification overall, however, for much of their evolutionary history it is the clade Polyphaga that is most responsible for their taxonomic richness. Polyphaga had an increase in diversification rate in the Early Cretaceous, but instead of being due to the radiation of the angiosperms, this was probably due to the first occurrences of beetle-bearing amber deposits in the record. Perhaps, most significant is that polyphagan beetles had a family-level extinction rate of zero for most of their evolutionary history, including across the Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary. Therefore, focusing on the factors that have inhibited beetle extinction, as opposed to solely studying mechanisms that may promote speciation, should be examined as important determinants of their great diversity today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150060
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1805
StatePublished - 2015


  • Coleoptera
  • Diversity
  • Extinction
  • Origination
  • Polyphaga
  • Sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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