Conservation paleobiologistsscientists who use the fossil record to understand the evolutionary and ecological responses of present-day species to changes in their environment are putting the dead to work.
A new review of the research in this emerging field provides examples of how the fossil record can help assess environmental impact, predict which species will be most vulnerable to environmental changes and provide guidelines for restoration.
The literature review by conservation paleobiologists Gregory P. Dietl of the Paleontological Research Institution and Cornell University and Karl W. Flessa of the University of Arizona is published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The National Science Foundation funded the research.
"Conservation paleobiologists apply the data and tools of paleontology to solving today's problems in biodiversity conservation," says Dietl, the director of collections at the Paleontological Research Institution.
The primary sources of data are "geohistorical," Dietl says, meaning the fossils, the geochemistry and the sediments of the geologic record.
"A conservation paleobiology perspective has the unique advantage of being able to identify phenomena beyond time scales of direct observation," he says.
Flessa says, "Such data are crucial for documenting the species we have already lost such as the extinct birds of the Hawaiian islands -- and for developing more effective conservation policies in the face of an uncertain future."
Most conservation options are derived from modern-day observations alone, they state, and may not accurately predict the responses of species to the changing climates of the future.
Geohistorical records, the authors wrote, are therefore critical to identifying whereand how-- species survived long-ago periods of climate change
Ancient DNA, for example, has been used
|Contact: Maja Anderson|
Paleontological Research Institution