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Stratigraphic Paleobiology

Understanding the Distribution of Fossil Taxa in Time and Space

Whether the fossil record should be read at face value or whether it presents a distorted view of the history of life is an argument seemingly as old as many fossils themselves. In the late 1700s, Georges Cuvier argued for a literal interpretation, but in the early 1800s, Charles Lyell’s gradualist view of the earth’s history required a more nuanced interpretation of that same record. To this day, the tension between literal and interpretive readings lies at the heart of paleontological research, influencing the way scientists view extinction patterns and their causes, ecosystem persistence and turnover, and the pattern of morphologic change and mode of speciation.
With Stratigraphic Paleobiology, Mark E. Patzkowsky and Steven M. Holland present a critical framework for assessing the fossil record, one based on a modern understanding of the principles of sediment accumulation. Patzkowsky and Holland argue that the distribution of fossil taxa in time and space is controlled not only by processes of ecology, evolution, and environmental change, but also by the stratigraphic processes that govern where and when sediment that might contain fossils is deposited and preserved. The authors explore the exciting possibilities of stratigraphic paleobiology, and along the way demonstrate its great potential to answer some of the most critical questions about the history of life: How and why do environmental niches change over time? What is the tempo and mode of evolutionary change and what processes drive this change? How has the diversity of life changed through time, and what processes control this change? And, finally, what is the tempo and mode of change in ecosystems over time?

256 pages | 2 color plates, 31 halftones, 19 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology


“As leading authorities in this new area, Patzkowksy and Holland have written the first book of its kind melding the disciplines of stratigraphy and paleontology in a useful way. . . . The book provides a coherent set of innovative theoretical concepts that will undoubtedly set the stage for future research for many years. The well-written and well-indexed text is adequately illustrated and contains a helpful glossary of common terms. Valuable for undergraduates and essential for graduates and above. Highly recommended.”

C. A. McRoberts, SUNY Cortland | Choice

“Patzkowsky and Holland pull together the literature and theory from ecology and stratigraphy and cast them in a deep-time paleobiological light, making connections that are not always apparent to paleontologists. This is the kind of book that graduate students should read early on in their educations, as it is ripe with ideas and full of testable hypotheses about what we can learn from the distribution of fossils in space and time. Reading this made me look at my own data in new ways. I can’t wait to use this book for a graduate seminar.”

Linda C. Ivany, Syracuse University

“Paleobiology arose with an influx of studies that introduced biological concepts into a paleontology largely devoted to stratigraphy; in Stratigraphic Paleobiology, Patzkowsky and Holland return the favor by introducing modern stratigraphic concepts, chiefly from sequence stratigraphy, into paleobiology. The authors show that stringent interpretations of depositional sequences at the outcrop can be combined to illuminate biological patterns that create critical tests of hypotheses of the underlying biology at regional and even global scales through geologic time. An important step in paleobiology, clearly described by major contributors to this important and burgeoning field.”

James Valentine, Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley

“The fossils that form the empirical fossil record come in a geological and stratigraphic context, and Patzkowsky and Holland argue that understanding the nature of that context is vital for answering just about any paleontological question of interest. The novelty of this work is that it weaves important strands of the paleontological literature—with many of the most essential parts by the authors themselves—into a coherent worldview that emphasizes the importance of understanding the geological record. This book is a significant accomplishment, and it promises to nudge and shape the future development of the field.”

Gene Hunt, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Table of Contents


1 Introduction
2 The Nature of a Sample
3 The Stratigraphic Framework
4 Environmental Controls on the Distribution of Species
5 Stratigraphic Controls on Fossil Occurrences
6 The Ecology of Fossil Taxa through Time
7 Morphological Change through Time
8 From Individual Collections to Global Diversity
9 Ecosystem Change through Time
10 From Beginnings to Prospects

Common Sequence Stratigraphic Terms

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