Special Issue "Paleontology in the 21st Century"
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2022) | Viewed by 81192
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.
2. Research Curator, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA
3. Research Associate, Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA
4. Visiting Professor, Department of Geology, Lund University, PO Box 117, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden
Interests: fossils; molecules; evolutionary biology; vertebrate paleontology; evolution
2. Archaeology Department, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 8000, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
Interests: mammal paleontology of Eurasia and Africa from the neogene and quaternary; small mammals; great apes; paleobiology; paleoecology
Paleontology is the scientific discipline that investigates the origin and evolution of the biosphere. Fossils are any evidence of past life; thus in the broadest sense, fossils can refer to biomarkers indicative of life processes, microbial mats (some of the earliest evidence of life on this planet), footprints and trackways, shelly fossils, and the enigmatic Vendian and Ediacaran remains, as well as more familiar vertebrate fossils, including dinosaurs, birds, turtles, wooly mammoths, sabre tooth cats, and of course ancient humans.
Historically, paleontology emerged as a science for describing and cataloging fossils, but these early efforts were not accomplished using a rigorous and consistent evolutionary framework until the acceptance and application of Hennig’s concepts of phylogenetic systematics in the 1960s. This lag may have been facilitated by the expansion of DNA and protein phylogenies established for living organisms, while paleontology was assumed to be limited to morphological analyses. Traditionally, paleontologists mainly relied on gross anatomical information obtained from the remains of extinct organisms interred in the sedimentary record to propose hypotheses about function and evolutionary relationships, based upon shared, derived, morphological characteristics.
Moving forward to the 20th century, paleontology assumed a prominent role in evolutionary biology thanks to the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Modern Synthesis in biology. This paradigm shift in paleontology was also noted by evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith: “The paleontologists have too long been missing from the high table. Welcome back”. In the last 50 years, paleontology has undergone revolutionary transdisciplinary developments in the areas such as evolution, ecology, environmental change, climate modelling, developmental biology (evo-devo), molecular biology and analytical biochemistry, facilitated by methodological advances and sophisticated new tools.
Moving into the 21st century, the methodological advances and sophisticated new tools of molecular biology and analytical biochemistry, together with new imaging techniques and histological analyses, have provided access to novel sources of geobiologically relevant information in ancient remains. The data produced using these new approaches are challenging conventional wisdom regarding preservation, taphonomic modes and aspects of physiology, evolution and the relationships among extinct organisms. The integrative approaches in paleontology have the potential to provide crucial knowledge derived from the last 3.6 billion years of Earth’s history to inform appropriate responses to problems facing us today and into the future, including responses to hypothesized declines in biodiversity and accelerated climate change, to improve the effectiveness of present and future conservation practices and policy making in the context of climate change.
In this Special Issue, we highlight recent, groundbreaking advances in the study of ancient life on planet Earth. We welcome topics including, but not limited to:
- Brief reviews of the state of paleontological science, and how the study of fossil remains has changed in the last few decades.
- New interpretations of data resulting from applications of methods new to paleontology.
- New databases (such as DNA and protein sequence databases) against which to compare data derived from fossils.
- Advancing the understanding of tempo and mode in evolution.
- The integration of paleontological perspectives into various disciplines (e.g. Biology, Ecology, Microbiology, Conservation biology, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Genomics, and even Computer Science.
- The recognition of long-term environmental change and organismal responses to it, as revealed from fossil and sedimentological data.
- Novel insights into evolutionary relationships between living and extinct taxa.
- Pathways of preservation and taphonomic modes, revealed through new biogeochemical analyses.
- Paleontology as a predictive science, and how trends in ancient life, recognized through in depth, multi-level analyses, may be applied to future trends affecting humans.
Prof. Dr. Mary H. Schweitzer
Dr. Ferhat Kaya
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