Brett, Carlton E. Department of Geological Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
- Paleoenvironmental Interpretations
- Taxonomic uniformitarianism
- Morphologic features
- Skeletal mineralogy and geochemistry
- Comparative taphonomy
- Functional morphology
- Fossil data
- Population studies
- Organism interactions
- Larval ecology and evolution
- Evolutionary Paleoecology
- Additional Reading
Ecology of prehistoric times, extending from about 10,000 to about 3.5 × 109 years ago. Although the principles of paleoecology are the same as those underlying modern ecology, the two fields actually differ greatly. Paleoecology is a historical science that must rely on empirical data from fossils and their enclosing sedimentary rocks to make inferences about past conditions. Experimental approaches and direct measurement of environmental parameters, which are critical components of modern ecology, are generally impossible in paleoecology. Furthermore, distortion and loss of information during fossilization means that fossil assemblages and distributions are rarely congruent with living communities. Hence, the resolution of ancient ecosystems must remain relatively imprecise. The lack of precision is compensated for by the fact that paleoecology deals with processes occurring over vast spans of time that are unavailable to modern ecology. Long-term changes in communities (replacement) may be discerned and related to patterns of environmental change. More significantly, overall patterns of ecological change in the global biosphere may be documented; evolutionary paleoecology focuses on recognition and interpretation of long-term ecological trends that have been critical in shaping evolution.
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