Paleobotany in the Post-Genomics Era
DiMichele, William A. .
Plant ecology in deep time.
PALEOECOLOGY has long been a component of paleobotanical research, traditionally focused on understanding the autecologies of extinct organisms and, to a lesser extent, the circumscription of ancient plant assemblages in environmental context. These approaches complemented and overlapped studies of biostratigraphy, descriptive floristics, and biodiversity. Fossil plants also were used to infer ancient climates and climatic dynamics. In the later third of the 20th Century, continuing today, paleoecology expanded its scope principally by applying data on plant assemblage changes through time to problems of broader conceptual and theoretical scope in ecology and evolutionary biology, sensu lato. This has been made possible by growth in the sophistication with which fossil assemblages are examined, combining taphonomy with improved sampling and analysis methods. Partnerships with geoscientists have proven increasingly important: geochemistry (stable isotopes; biomarkers), sedimentology (paleoenvironments), paleopedology (ancient climates and vegetation), and paleogeography have allowed more secure linkages to be made between local and global events. An increasingly precise and accurate timescale also greatly improves resolution, in some cases pushing it almost to scales studied by neoecologists. The current research foci of paleoecology include (1) continued characterization of fossil plants and plant assemblages, (2) comparative studies of taxonomic diversity by time and environment, and how diversity relates to ecological resource space and is linked with fungal and animal evolution, (3) the nature of floristic and vegetational response to large-scale environmental change, including the degree of coherence of assemblages through time, (4) the relationship between plant evolutionary innovation and ecological resources. Paleoecological studies encompass all parts of the Phanerozoic terrestrial record, and are increasingly comparative across and through time. Active collecting, increasingly sophisticated sampling, compilation of large data bases, innovations in data analysis, and partnerships with a diversity of geoscientists in other disciplines directly support this expanding discipline.
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1 - NMNH Smithsonian Institution, Department of Paleobiology, MRC-121, Washington, DC, 20560, USA
Presentation Type: Symposium or Colloquium Presentation
Date: Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
Time: 10:15 AM