Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 8:40 AM
THE UTILIZATION OF PALEONTOLOGICAL DATA IN ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Fossil data have the potential to expand the temporal reach of ecological research. Potential uses for fossil data in ecological research include using the fossil record to document historical patterns of species distributions as communities respond to environmental changes, using historical patterns to predict ecosystem response to future environmental change, using the fossil record to determine pre-anthropogenic impact baselines for ecological restoration, using the fossil record to test ecological theory, and using death assemblages to proxy for sampling the living assemblage. Certainly, ecologists have a need for data on the past states of modern ecosystems to inform ecological restoration (conservation paleobiology), to understand anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems, and to predict the impact on ecosystems of future climate change by reference to studies of past climate change. We are currently surveying the ecological and paleoecological literature to determine when and how ecologists are utilizing paleontological data. Our analysis is restricted to studies that reconstruct community membership and structure where scale is an important issue. Studies that use fossil data to reconstruct physical parameters in ecosystems are not considered, but studies that use fossil data to demonstrate environmental changes are. We are particularly interested in how mismatches in scale (temporal, spatial, and taxonomic) have been reconciled (or not) between paleontological and ecological data sets. Although we have found studies that demonstrate paleontological data being used for all of the applications listed above, so far we have found very few examples where direct numerical comparisons have been made by ecologists between species distributions from modern and fossil communities.