Today is the first day of the Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap (CPEG) conference. The aim of the conference is to open a dialogue between palaeontologists and ecologists who work on similar questions but across vastly different timescales. This splitting of temporal scales tends to make communication, data integration and synthesis in ecology harder. A lot of this comes from the fact that palaeontologists and ecologists tend to publish in different journals and attend different meetings.

Methods in Ecology and Evolution is one of few ecological journals that attracts submissions from both ecologists and palaeontologists. To highlight this, we’ve released a Virtual Issue, also called Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap.

The aim of this Virtual Issue is to highlight articles that contain methods or data of interest to ecologists or palaeontologists that may have previously being missed. It’s a non-exhaustive, eclectic compilation of a number of recent papers that either bridge the temporal gaps between palaeontology and ecology or are prime examples of techniques that could potentially be effectively used on data sets at any temporal scale.

Statistical Models

Dental morphology can tell us about extant and extinct mammalian diets.
Dental morphology can tell us about extant and extinct mammalian diets.

The use of statistical models for the description of macroecological processes is now routinely used in both modern and palaeontological contexts. Many of the techniques applied to contemporary datasets are also applicable to palaeoecological data sets and vice versa.

Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap begins with seven modelling-focused articles including those focusing on species abundance estimation and distribution dynamics modelling in contemporary ecosystems. We also look into using DNA records to model palaeoecological populations, modelling the impact of mass extinctions on molecular phylogenies,  and modelling ecospace occupation in fossil contexts.

The first section of this Virtual Issue ends with papers on modelling extant and extinct mammalian diet based on dental morphology and modelling functional and phylogenetic diversity across a variety of ecological scales.

Sampling Probabilities, Software, Taxonomy and Curation

Microplankton data are used for quantitative work that's applicable to ecology and paleoecology.
Microplankton data are used for quantitative work that’s applicable to ecology and paleoecology.

Next, there are three articles concerned with estimating sampling error in ecological data sets, an issue that is critical to both contemporary studies of extinction risk and conservation. It could be even more of a concern to palaeontologists working with fragmentary fossil records though.

We then turn our attention to two articles document specific pieces of ecological software applicable to both contemporary and palaeontological data sets. Sirot et al. introduce an R package for the analysis of calcified structures and Hsiang et al. present Automorph, a 2D and 3D morphometric shape processor.

The final two articles deal with taxonomic practise and data curation. Sigovini et al. provide a review of dealing with taxonomic uncertainty for biodiversity studies, an issue pivotal to both contemporary and palaeontological studies. Martin and Harvey close out the Virtual Issue by documenting the Global Pollen Project which provides a tool for the identification and dissemination of physical palynological collections, both fossil and modern.