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Paleontologists learn how not to become a fossil

The best way to avoid becoming a fossil is to be small and live in deep, tropical waters. So say four paleontologists who have published a detailed, global study of clam preservation. Their work is intended to enhance evolutionary studies by determining what's missing from the fossil record and why.

"Everyone talks about how imperfect the fossil record is, but not many people do anything about it," said David Jablonski, the William Kenan Jr. Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago. "We're not doing this for the sake of knowing more about clams, but for knowing more about how to answer biological questions in the fossil record more rigorously."

Jablonski co-authored the study along with James Valentine, University of California, Berkeley; Susan Kidwell, University of Chicago; and Kaustuv Roy, University of California, San Diego. Their study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, appears in the April 10-14 Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings will help scientists link the recent fossil record with modern biodiversity to better understand the role of humans in bringing about change in patterns of life on Earth, said Kidwell, the William Rainey Harper Professor in Geophysical Sciences. "This gives us some strategies for how to zero in on the most reliable data," she said.

The PNAS co-authors focused on bivalves (clams, scallops, oysters, cockles and their kin), because they serve paleontologists the way geneticists use mice or fruit flies as model systems. Jablonski called the clam "a real bellweather" for understanding many long-term changes in biodiversity.

Said Kidwell: "This group is hughly important out there in the modern seas, constituting a big fraction of animal diversity." Some clams are tiny while others are giants. They pursue lifestyles ranging from parasitic to predatory, and they live
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Source:University of Chicago


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