Introduction to Paleoecology (August 20)

Welcome to the Paleoecology course at Wooster! These weekly blog posts will be your guide to the concepts and materials of our course. Come here often! Please use the tabs above to view the organization of this course, especially the Course Notes. This top blog post will change every week, with the older posts available below.

Paleoecology (ESCI 215) is a writing intensive course (denoted by a “W”). We will concentrate on various forms of writing, including essays and lab reports for scientific and general audiences. The key piece of our writing curriculum is the Research Paper where we will explore literature research, citations and references, scientific illustrations, and professional formatting based on our departmental Independent Study requirements. The research papers will be presented to the class as short PowerPoint talks to complete the model of scientific exposition.

The Wikipedia definition of our subject is concise: “Paleoecology is the study of interactions between organisms and/or interactions between organisms and their environments across geologic timescales. As a discipline, paleoecology interacts with, depends on and informs a variety of fields including paleontology, ecology, climatology and biology.” We have a wondrously diverse science in paleoecology, with connections to many topics directly relevant to contemporary concerns about environmental degradation, extinction, and climate change.

We need a few general links to paleontological resources to get us started in paleoecological research. Here is the University of California Museum of Paleontology (Berkeley) page on “learning from the fossil record“, with numerous educational and professional articles and links. The Paleontological Research Institution has an excellent site with introductory material (including “mystery fossils” to identify). It is oriented towards professionals and graduate students, but you can certainly have a go at it. And I can’t let you go without links to my favorite organizations: The Paleontological Society and The Palaeontological Association. You certainly want to look at the projects of Wooster paleontologists over the past few years. You may also want to visit The Paleontology Portal which is “a central entryway to paleontology on the Web”. It is an excellent link to thousands of paleontological resources. (Check out their fossil gallery, which is organized by period.)

The Time Scavengers blog is an excellent site for geology students, especially those interested in paleontology. University of Tennessee graduate students Jen Bauer and Adriane Lam have put together a fantastic collection of articles, teaching aids, and links just for students like you. They even have an interview with an evolutionary paleoecologist.

Our theme song! (Although it could use some invertebrate fossils …)

Jurassic fossils in southern Israel (Matmor Formation, Makhtesh Gadol, near Dimona). These are mussels still attached to a snail shell. Click for larger view.

Geology in the News —

A new articulated skeleton of a Neanderthal was recently found in Iraq — the first such skeleton to be found in over a decade. The locality is in Iraqi Kurdistan, so you can imagine how difficult it is to work there.

Here’s an analysis of a cool reconstruction of the orthoceratoid nautiloid Endoceras. It’s not often we’re told the reasons behind this type of art/science.

Using carbon and oxygen stable isotope ratios in fossil eggshells, paleontologists show strong evidence that dinosaurs were endothermic.

Here is a story about Louis Agassiz and his 19th century throw-them-in-the-deep-end style of teaching. It is my inspiration for your first lab!

This is cool: A recently discovered critter is the first known animal not to require oxygen. It has no mitochondria. You’re not likely to see it, though, since it is a tiny parasite in some fish muscles. They are cnidarians, oddly enough, and they still have a variety of stinging cells (nematocysts).