2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 81-2
Presentation Time: 1:20 PM


BENNINGTON, J. Bret, Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability, 114 Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY 11549-1140 and ARONSON, Myla F.J., Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901

A review of the recent scientific literature was conducted to assess trends in the utilization of paleontological data in ecological research. Our search targeted papers published from 2001 to early 2014 that explicitly compared data on the current composition of a living community with data quantifying the state of that community in the past using fossil remains. We found 41 published studies matching our search criteria revealing a trend of increasing utilization of fossils to inform ecological research. Most studies focused on establishing the structure and composition of communities from the recent back through the Holocene to assess the degree of anthropogenic impact and to establish pre-impact ecological baselines to inform conservation, management, and restoration decisions. Other research aims included assessing the ecological impact of invasive species, assessing the impact of climate change on communities, assessing the relative contributions of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance to community change, measuring the ecological fidelity of the fossil record, and testing ecological theory using the extended temporal perspective provided by fossils. Studies covered a broad range of organisms (corals, molluscs, plankton, macrophytes, vertebrates) and environments (freshwater, marine, terrestrial). An analysis of the spatial, temporal, and taxonomic scales over which both living and fossil data were collected reveals relatively few problems of scale mismatch in the studies examined. In most cases, the spatial, temporal, and taxonomic resolution of the living and fossil data were sufficiently similar to justify the conclusions reached in the study. In many cases, potential problems of scale mismatch were avoided by using a sample of the very recently dead to proxy for the living community. Overall, the increasing frequency with which fossils are being used to inform studies of modern ecological processes and communities (75% of these papers were published in ecology and conservation journals) indicates that Conservation Paleobiology is a research program whose time has come.
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