The source of occurrence data: fossil collections (photo by Konstantin Frisch).
To find out about changes in ancient ecosystems we need to analyse fossil databases that register the taxonomy and stratigraphic (temporal) positions of fossils. These data can be used to detect changes of taxonomic diversity and to draft time series of originations and extinctions.
The story would be so simple if it wasn’t the effects of heterogeneous and incomplete sampling: the white spots in our understanding of where and when species lived exactly. This phenomenon decreases the fidelity of face-value patterns extracted from the fossil record, making them less reliable. It must be considered if we want to get a glimpse into the biology or the distribution of life in space and time. Naturally, several metrics have been proposed to overcome this problem, each claiming to accurately depict the patterns of ancient life. Continue reading →
Defining macroecology should be easy; it’s just ecology at large spatial scales, right? In reality though, it’s a little more complex than that. No-one agrees on exactly how large the spatial scale should be, and many studies that could be macroecology may also be defined as biogeography, landscape ecology, community ecology etc. Working at large spatial scales can also mean working at large temporal scales, often in deep-time. So there’s a lot of overlap with studies of macroevolution both on living and extinct species too.
This breadth of definitions means the BES Macroecology Special Interest Group (or BES Macro as we usually call it) has members with interests across ecology, evolution and palaeontology. Probably the most common statement at any of our events is “I’m not a macroecologist but…”. So, if you’re interested in broad-scale ecology and evolution, in a living or palaeo context, the SIG is for you, even if you don’t identify as a macroecologist! Continue reading →
I had the pleasure of delivering one of the plenary talks at the first (hopefully of many) Crossing the Palaeontological – Ecological Gap meeting held in the University of Leeds on August 30th and 31st. I’m a geologist and a botanist, so this is a topic that’s close to my heart and my professional interests.
As we move into an ecologically uncertain future with pressures of climate change, land-use change and resource limitations, the fossil record offers the only truly long-term record of how Earth’s ecosystems respond to major environmental upheaval driven by climate change events. The fossil record is, of course, not without its problems – there are gaps, not everything fossilises in the same way or numbers, and comparisons to today’s ecology are extremely difficult. It’s these difficulties (and other challenges) that make the uniting of palaeontology and ecology essential to fully address how plants, animals and other organisms have responded to major changes in the past. Perhaps uniting them could give us an idea of what to expect in our near-term future, as carbon dioxide levels return to those not previously experienced on Earth since the Pliocene, over 2 million years ago. Continue reading →
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.
By charting the slopes and crags on animals’ teeth as if they were mountain ranges, scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have created a powerful new way to learn about the diets of extinct animals from the fossil record.
Understanding the diets of animals that lived long ago can tell researchers about the environments they lived in and help them piece together a picture of how the planet has changed over deep time. The new quantitative approach to analysing dentition, reported on 21 November in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will also give researchers a clearer picture of how animals evolve in response to changes in their environment.
A 3D reconstruction of the teeth of a western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla).
Each year our editors select the best paper published in Methods by a young researcher. We are delighted to announce that this year’s winner of the Robert May Prize is Tyler Kuhn for his paper co-authored with Arne Ø. Mooers and Gavin H. Thomas A simple polytomy resolver for dated phylogenies published in vol. 2.5 of the journal.
Tyler and co-authors present a simple approach to polytomy resolution (polytomy, i.e. unresolved nodes in phylogenetic trees), using biologically relevant models of diversification using free available software, BEAST and R. The paper should be useful for many future analyses of the mammalian supertree.
Raised in a small town in Canada’s far north, Tyler has always had a passion for understanding the natural world. This passion led him to the University of Victoria, where he completed his B.Sc. Honours in Earth Sciences in 2004. It was there that he discovered the world of paleontology. He returned to academia after spending several years working as a geologist to pursue his M.Sc in Quaternary paleontology. He completed this degree in 2010, focussing on the use of aDNA to improve our understanding of imperilled northern species, and to help inform management practices. During this time, he and his supervisor, Arne Mooers, became involved in a “side project” aimed at improving the useability of incompletely resolved phylogenies in conservation decision making processes. This work has since expanded far beyond his M.Sc. thesis to include several published papers, including the Robert May Prize winning paper on resolving polytomies of dated supertrees. Tyler currently lives in Canada’s frigid north and works as a government biologist, paleontologist and independent researcher.
By way of an introduction to this blog post, watch this!
Back in March the Centre for Ecology and Evolution in London organised a meeting that brought together top researchers in macroevolution. The idea of the meeting was to highlight how advances in the study of macroevolution could be made by a closer integration with ecology, and the incoroporation of ecological ideas and ecological models.
The meeting had a terrific line-up of speakers, and a synthesis of the science is now available in Biology Letters.
As with any meeting of course, a limitation was that you had to be in London and free on the days of the symposium: I couldn’t make it as I was in the other side of the country and committed for the whole two days. However, in what is an innovation for evolutionary and ecological research, the organisers of the symposium recorded the talks and have now made them available to watch online. MEE, via our publishers Wiley-Blackwell, we were glad to sponsor the costs of making the talks available online. Not least as it meant that I could watch them!
However, all the talks are excellent and really worth watching.
I think this is an excellent resource for the evolutionary community: the videos have been professionally recorded and edited, and are easy and effective to watch. Given the modest costs of doing this, I hope that more meeting organisers will follow this lead.