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

Paper No. 8-9
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


ROSS, Robert M., Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY 14850 and DIETL, Gregory P., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850

Conservation paleobiology (CPB) is a rapidly expanding field of conservation science, with significant demonstrable societal relevance, yet CPB is nearly uncharted in the area of public outreach. The potential exists to help the public interpret the ecological and geological history of a place as a step toward informing decisions that will impact ecosystems generations into the future. Broad implementation of effective educational practices would increase public stewardship and expand opportunities for CPB.

Successful educational outreach in CPB is contingent upon facilitating understanding two essential and irreducible Earth system change concepts: “historical” and “future” thinking. 1) Historical thinking refers to the practice of incorporating historical events and processes across temporal scales in interpretation of why an ecosystem looks as it does (and did). 2) Future thinking is estimation of how current processes will be manifested in ecosystem changes decades, centuries, and millennia into the future. Effective communication of the central messages of CPB outreach rests on our ability to help people apply these concepts, including understanding of the fundamental principles of baseline and range of temporal variation, to future ecosystem scenarios.

Geohistorical data from the “familiar” past may align relatively easily with near-future planning. Geohistorical data from the distant past, however, though more challenging to comprehend, possess considerable potential to help the public envision alternative scenarios of the future that they cannot imagine from personal experience or human historical records. In other words, the relevancy of the distant past—particularly of environmental contexts of biotic response outside of our experience (but toward which we might be headed)—centers precisely on what may initially appear irrelevant to present-day conservation concerns.