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Conservation Paleobiology

Science and Practice

In conservation, perhaps no better example exists of the past informing the present than the return of the California condor to the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. Extinct in the region for nearly one hundred years, condors were successfully reintroduced starting in the 1990s in an effort informed by the fossil record—condor skeletal remains had been found in the area’s late-Pleistocene cave deposits. The potential benefits of applying such data to conservation initiatives are unquestionably great, yet integrating the relevant disciplines has proven challenging. Conservation Paleobiology gathers a remarkable array of scientists—from Jeremy B. C. Jackson to Geerat J. Vermeij—to provide an authoritative overview of how paleobiology can inform both the management of threatened species and larger conservation decisions.

Studying endangered species is difficult. They are by definition rare, some exist only in captivity, and for those still in their native habitats any experimentation can potentially have a negative effect on survival. Moreover, a lack of long-term data makes it challenging to anticipate biotic responses to environmental conditions that are outside of our immediate experience. But in the fossil and prefossil records—from natural accumulations such as reefs, shell beds, and caves to human-made deposits like kitchen middens and archaeological sites—enlightening parallels to the Anthropocene can be found that might serve as a primer for present-day predicaments. Offering both deep-time and near-time perspectives and exploring a range of ecological and evolutionary dynamics and taxa from terrestrial as well as aquatic habitats, Conservation Paleobiology is a sterling demonstration of how the past can be used to manage for the future, giving new hope for the creation and implementation of successful conservation programs.

336 pages | 60 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology, Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology


“Without considering lessons from the past, plans for the future are at best flawed and at worst doomed to fail. Without knowledge from paleobiology, accurate assessment and management of the biodiversity crisis is not possible. Conservation Paleobiology will reach beyond paleontology and geology to all those interested in biodiversity conservation, climate and environmental change, and evolution and extinction in a variety of fields—especially biology, but also in the public policy and environmental management arena. An excellent volume at the cutting edge of a nascent and promising discipline, this book has the potential to contribute significantly to one of the most pressing societal issues today.”

Patricia Kelley, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

“Paleobiology can guide us in managing (and managing to avoid some) environmental change. The past is not the perfect predictor of the future by any means, but it can greatly enrich our understanding of what futures could be and what the choices before us are. . . . The planet does not work as just a physical system. It works as a combined biological and physical system, one that is now being distorted by the human enterprise. At some point humanity and the planet will certainly come to some sort of equilibrium, but biology and paleobiology will be needed for the outcome to be salutary.”

Thomas E. Lovejoy, from the foreword

Table of Contents

Foreword by Thomas E. Lovejoy

Section One: Conservation Paleobiology in Near Time

1. The youngest fossil record and conservation biology: Holocene shells as eco-environmental recorders
Michał Kowalewski

2. Conservation biology and environmental change: A paleolimnological perspective
John P. Smol

3. Vertebrate fossils and the future of conservation biology
Elizabeth A. Hadly and Anthony D. Barnosky

4. Paleoecology and resource management in a dynamic landscape: Case studies from the Rocky Mountain headwaters
Stephen T. Jackson, Stephen T. Gray, and Bryan Shuman

5. Historical ecology for the paleontologist
Jeremy B. C. Jackson and Loren McClenachan

6. The isotopic ecology of fossil vertebrates and conservation paleobiology
Paul L. Koch, Kena Fox-Dobbs, and Seth D. Newsome

7. Evaluating human modification of shallow marine ecosystems: Mismatch in composition of molluscan living and time-averaged death assemblages
Susan M. Kidwell

8. Using a macroecological approach to the fossil record to help inform conservation biology
S. Kathleen Lyons and Peter J. Wagner

Section Two: Conservation Paleobiology in Deep Time

9. Seven variations on a recent theme of conservation
Geerat J. Vermeij

10. Metaphor, inference, and prediction in paleoecology: Climate change and the Antarctic bottom fauna
Richard B. Aronson

11. Ecological modeling of paleocommunity food webs
Peter D. Roopnarine

12. Paleobiology and the conservation of the evolving web of life
Gregory P. Dietl

13. Speciation and shifting baselines: Prospects for reciprocal illumination between evolutionary paleobiology and conservation biology
Warren D. Allmon

Section Three: Conservation Paleobiology at Work

14. Putting the dead to work: Translational paleoecology
Karl W. Flessa

15. Conservation paleobiology roundtable: From promise to application
Alison G. Boyer, Mark Brenner, David A. Burney, John M. Pandolfi, Michael Savarese, Gregory P. Dietl, and Karl W. Flessa

Epilogue: Conservation Paleobiology in the Anthropocene

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