Paleoecology

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paleoecology

[¦pāl·ē·ō·i′käl·ə·jē]
(paleontology)
The ecology of the geologic past.

Paleoecology

 

a branch of paleontology studying the way of life and habitat of organisms of the geologic past, the relationship between the organisms and their environment (inorganic and organic), and the changes that occurred in organisms during the development of life on earth.

The founder of paleoecology was the Russian paleontologist V. O. Kovalevskii, who provided brilliant examples of evolutionary and paleoecological analysis of extinct terrestrial vertebrates. Valuable studies of fossil marine and brackish-water invertebrates were conducted by the Russian geologist N. I. Andrusov. Of major importance in the development of paleoecology was the work of the Belgian paleontologist L. Dollo and the Austrian scientist O. Abel. Dollo called his research ethological-paleonto-logical, and Abel proposed the term “paleobiology.” The latter name was subsequently replaced by the term “paleoecology.” The Russian geologists and paleontologists A. P. Karpinskii and N. N. Iakovlev contributed greatly to the development of paleoecology.

The principal method of reconstructing the life of ancient organisms is to study the structure of their skeletal remains (morphofunctional analysis). It is also possible to partially recreate the habitat of extinct organisms by using geological data and by studying all organisms inhabiting the body of water or land under investigation. Thus, the objects of study in paleoecology are remains of organisms (species, populations, and communities), traces left by the organisms (paleoichnology), other manifestations of life activity (molting), characteristics of burial (taphonomy), and the rocks that enclose the petrifactions. The study of the material composition, structure, and textural and geochemical characteristics of rocks makes possible the recreation of many features of the life and demise of ancient organisms. Hence, it is necessary to coordinate paleoecological and lithological research.

Since the 1930’s, joint paleoecological and lithological research has been conducted in the USSR. A method has been elaborated based on the comparative ecological analysis of complexes of benthic organisms in space and time and on principles of the distribution of the organisms within whole marine basins. Such analysis acquires special significance with the study of Paleozoic and earlier organisms, in which case the actualistic method can be used, but with great limitations (seeACTUALISM). The method is widely used in analyzing fossil burials (actuopaleontology, according to R. Richter and W. Schäfer). Since roughly 1950, works have appeared on the evolution of ancient communities. These works may foster study of the development of ecological relationships between groups of ancient organisms and between ancient organisms and the inorganic environment.

In re-creating the living conditions and way of life of organisms of the geologic past, paleoecology provides valuable information for other branches of paleontology and for geology. It helps in the correlation of beds of different facies and in the reconstruction of the paleographic conditions, the conditions of sediment accumulation, and the formation of a number of mineral resources.

The journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology has been published in Amsterdam since 1965. In the USSR, paleoecological research is conducted primarily at the Paleontological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Institute of Paleobiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR.

REFERENCES

Gekker, R. F. Vvedenie v paleoekologiiu. Moscow, 1957.
Ivanova, E. A. “O putiakh razvitiia paleoekologii v SSSR.” Paleontologi-cheskii zhurnal, 1959, no. 2.
Iakovlev, N. N. Organizm i sreda, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1964.
Schäfer, W. Aktuo-Paläontologie nach Studien in der Nordsee. Freiburg-Munich, 1962.
Ager, D. V. Principles of Paleoecology. New York, 1963.

R. F. GEKKER and A. I. OSIPOVA

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