Chapter

From Paleoecology to Paleobiology

David Sepkoski

in Rereading the Fossil Record

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780226748559
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226748580 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226748580.003.0005
From Paleoecology to Paleobiology

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This chapter argues that a crucial prerequisite to the modern paleobiological synthesis is the development and refinement of the field of paleoecology. Paleoecology itself is not a new field; paleontologists had been using the term for decades, and its subject matter—the relationship between fossil organisms and their environments—had been studied. But paleoecology went through its own revolution in which the subject was redefined and reconceptualized by a number of mostly younger paleontologists, many of whom would also become leaders in the paleobiology movement. The new approach to paleoecology emphasized two important conceptual revisions. First, rather than focusing on the physical parameters of the environment as a geological problem, the new paleoecology placed much greater emphasis on the biological aspects of populations of fossil organisms, and it often explicitly compared fossil assemblages to living counterparts. Second, the new paleoecology drew heavily on important work in theoretical ecology and biogeography that was having its own revolutionary impact on the broader study of ecology. Ecologists were opening new conceptual frontiers in ecology through the use of mathematical models designed to offer generalizations about community structure, colonization and extinction, and evolution. The new paleoecology was, in large part, an outgrowth of this movement in theoretical ecology.

Keywords: paleoecology; paleobiology movement; geological problem; fossil organisms; community structure; colonization; extinction; evolution; mathematical models; theoretical ecology; fossil assemblages

Chapter.  8796 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Palaeontology

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