Where Paleontology and Conservation Biology Meet

Where Paleontology and Conservation Biology Meet An urgent scientific and societal challenge facing humanity is the ability to protect and, in some cases, restore biodiversity, ecological structure, and ecosystem services, which, in turn, are crucial for human survival. Although the well-established field of conservation biology has aimed to preserve species and their habitats, this discipline has consistently overlooked historical records beyond those collected with instruments and those at shorter timescales. The great variety and complexity of natural and anthropogenic (human-driven) stressors shaping the biosphere today operate simultaneously from local to global scales and are difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle without a geohistorical (long-term) dimension (Dietl et al. 2015, Kidwell 2015, Barnosky et al. 2017). This differentiation is necessary to diagnose ecosystems as historical—that is, ecosystems that have been maintained in reasonably pristine conditions for centuries or more—or novel—that is, newly formed ecosystems, affected by humans, especially after the onset of the Industrial Revolution (Barnosky et al. 2017). How can we determine whether an ecosystem is “pristine” or “anthropogenic” without looking into past records? How can we competently predict responses of organisms without understanding the long-term resilience or susceptibility of species to different stressors? How can we prioritize areas for conservation without understanding the full range of natural variability of ecological baselines? The new discipline of conservation paleobiology formally emerged about a decade ago to rigorously address these questions (Dietl and Flessa 2011). Without this geohistorical knowledge, ecosystem management, protection, and restoration measures are not feasible. Conservation paleobiology is a young, multidisciplinary, integrative science that is quickly adding a range of theoretical and technical components. This discipline combines paleontology and conservation biology toolkits. Important advances over the last two decades in paleoecological, paleoclimatological, and geochronological methods have resulted in the accessibility of records that are accurate, highly temporally resolved, and affordable. This book marks the first effort to put together a comprehensive overview of the young field. It comprises a compilation of case studies that convincingly demonstrate that realistic conservation efforts will inevitably be hampered without a geohistorically informed perspective. View largeDownload slide View largeDownload slide The book's editors, Gregory Dietl, from the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), in Ithaca, New York, and Karl Flessa, from the University of Arizona, both geoscientists and paleontologists by training, were likely the first scientists to officially propose the new field of conservation paleobiology. It was formalized at a 2011 National Science Foundation–funded workshop, Conservation Paleobiology in the Coming Decades. This edited volume is an expanded reprint of the Paleontological Society short course “Conservation Paleobiology: Using the Past to Manage for the Future,” first published in 2009. The authors contributing to each chapter are also mostly geoscientists who have vast scientific experience integrating geohistorical records with conservation issues. Each book chapter provides one or several examples of how past archives have proven crucial for proper conservation planning. The chapters themselves consist of standalone papers that have the format of a review article. Therefore, the volume is not cumulative, and readers will be able to read any chapter independent of the others. I found most chapters quite engaging, informative, and easy to read. The volume is structured in three main sections: shallow time, deep time, and applied science. As lucidly described in this book, geohistorical records can be studied using either a shallow-time approach or a deep-time approach. Shallow time refers to geohistorical records of the recent past, typically the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) or the Quaternary (the last 2.6 million years). Deep time refers to geohistorical records that go back beyond the Quaternary. Most published research on conservation paleobiology has focused on the young fossil record, whereas very ancient fossils are rarely directly related to current conservation problems. Although my own research focuses on shallow time, the book convinced me that deep-time records can be, in some instances, used to predict certain future ecological scenarios. For example, Richard B. Aronson eloquently illustrates how low-predatory benthic organisms living today in Antarctica are comparable to Paleozoic evolutionary faunas because durophagous predation is limited in cold climates. With the current rapidly warming scenario, Aronson predicts that durophagous predation will reinvade Antarctica, as is already being observed by predatory crabs reaching these high latitudes in response to climate change. One aspect that I was eager to learn about in greater detail is the transition from fundamental to applied science. How can conservation paleobiologists directly and actively assist in conservation planning, management, and policy? Although a few chapters briefly discuss this process, only one chapter is fully dedicated to this transition. Karl W. Flessa describes in a straightforward manner his experience “from conservation paleobiology to conservation action.” His work in the Colorado River has documented increasing environmental degradation over decades, and communications with environmental nongovernmental organizations and other agencies have been the most effective for negotiating and applying water-management measures in the area to initiate environmental restoration using a geohistorical perspective. The book openly describes that the scientific community continues to struggle with effective communication and integration with practitioners, policymakers, wildlife managers, and conservationists. I believe that future scientific and societal efforts should focus on the application of the science of conservation paleobiology to existing conservation issues. This is not a trivial task because apart from the scarcity of funds available for applied science, the translation from science to application requires that scientists incorporate knowledge of environmental law and policy—and directly and frequently interact and communicate with environmental agencies and organizations. This book includes a plethora of scientific jargon and techniques across disciplines. Much of the terminology is not sufficiently explained or introduced for a broad audience, and accordingly, I would hesitate to recommend this book for nonexperts or as a primary text for an undergraduate course. However, I feel that in combination with state-of-the-art scientific articles, the book could be a powerful resource for researchers and graduate students. This edited ­volume conveys important foundational approaches and outlines the challenges and virtues of using the fossil and subfossil records to provide essential preanthropogenic and early anthropogenic information about the biosphere and initiates the important discussion of translating basic science to the application stage, although there is still a long way to go. References cited Barnosky AD et al.   2017. Merging paleobiology with conservation biology to guide the future of terrestrial ecosystems. Science  355 ( art. eaah4787). Dietl GP, Flessa KW. 2011. Conservation paleobiology: Putting the dead to work. Trends in Ecology and Evolution  26: 30– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Dietl GP, Kidwell SM, Brenner M, Burney DA, Flessa KW, Jackson S, Koch PL. 2015. Conservation paleobiology: Leveraging knowledge of the past to inform conservation and restoration. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences  43: 79– 103. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Kidwell SM. 2015. Biology in the Anthropocene: Challenges and insights from young fossil records. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences  112: 4922– 4929. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png BioScience Oxford University Press

Where Paleontology and Conservation Biology Meet

BioScience , Volume Advance Article – Jun 6, 2018

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Publisher
American Institute of Biological Sciences
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
ISSN
0006-3568
eISSN
1525-3244
D.O.I.
10.1093/biosci/biy062
Publisher site
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Abstract

An urgent scientific and societal challenge facing humanity is the ability to protect and, in some cases, restore biodiversity, ecological structure, and ecosystem services, which, in turn, are crucial for human survival. Although the well-established field of conservation biology has aimed to preserve species and their habitats, this discipline has consistently overlooked historical records beyond those collected with instruments and those at shorter timescales. The great variety and complexity of natural and anthropogenic (human-driven) stressors shaping the biosphere today operate simultaneously from local to global scales and are difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle without a geohistorical (long-term) dimension (Dietl et al. 2015, Kidwell 2015, Barnosky et al. 2017). This differentiation is necessary to diagnose ecosystems as historical—that is, ecosystems that have been maintained in reasonably pristine conditions for centuries or more—or novel—that is, newly formed ecosystems, affected by humans, especially after the onset of the Industrial Revolution (Barnosky et al. 2017). How can we determine whether an ecosystem is “pristine” or “anthropogenic” without looking into past records? How can we competently predict responses of organisms without understanding the long-term resilience or susceptibility of species to different stressors? How can we prioritize areas for conservation without understanding the full range of natural variability of ecological baselines? The new discipline of conservation paleobiology formally emerged about a decade ago to rigorously address these questions (Dietl and Flessa 2011). Without this geohistorical knowledge, ecosystem management, protection, and restoration measures are not feasible. Conservation paleobiology is a young, multidisciplinary, integrative science that is quickly adding a range of theoretical and technical components. This discipline combines paleontology and conservation biology toolkits. Important advances over the last two decades in paleoecological, paleoclimatological, and geochronological methods have resulted in the accessibility of records that are accurate, highly temporally resolved, and affordable. This book marks the first effort to put together a comprehensive overview of the young field. It comprises a compilation of case studies that convincingly demonstrate that realistic conservation efforts will inevitably be hampered without a geohistorically informed perspective. View largeDownload slide View largeDownload slide The book's editors, Gregory Dietl, from the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), in Ithaca, New York, and Karl Flessa, from the University of Arizona, both geoscientists and paleontologists by training, were likely the first scientists to officially propose the new field of conservation paleobiology. It was formalized at a 2011 National Science Foundation–funded workshop, Conservation Paleobiology in the Coming Decades. This edited volume is an expanded reprint of the Paleontological Society short course “Conservation Paleobiology: Using the Past to Manage for the Future,” first published in 2009. The authors contributing to each chapter are also mostly geoscientists who have vast scientific experience integrating geohistorical records with conservation issues. Each book chapter provides one or several examples of how past archives have proven crucial for proper conservation planning. The chapters themselves consist of standalone papers that have the format of a review article. Therefore, the volume is not cumulative, and readers will be able to read any chapter independent of the others. I found most chapters quite engaging, informative, and easy to read. The volume is structured in three main sections: shallow time, deep time, and applied science. As lucidly described in this book, geohistorical records can be studied using either a shallow-time approach or a deep-time approach. Shallow time refers to geohistorical records of the recent past, typically the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) or the Quaternary (the last 2.6 million years). Deep time refers to geohistorical records that go back beyond the Quaternary. Most published research on conservation paleobiology has focused on the young fossil record, whereas very ancient fossils are rarely directly related to current conservation problems. Although my own research focuses on shallow time, the book convinced me that deep-time records can be, in some instances, used to predict certain future ecological scenarios. For example, Richard B. Aronson eloquently illustrates how low-predatory benthic organisms living today in Antarctica are comparable to Paleozoic evolutionary faunas because durophagous predation is limited in cold climates. With the current rapidly warming scenario, Aronson predicts that durophagous predation will reinvade Antarctica, as is already being observed by predatory crabs reaching these high latitudes in response to climate change. One aspect that I was eager to learn about in greater detail is the transition from fundamental to applied science. How can conservation paleobiologists directly and actively assist in conservation planning, management, and policy? Although a few chapters briefly discuss this process, only one chapter is fully dedicated to this transition. Karl W. Flessa describes in a straightforward manner his experience “from conservation paleobiology to conservation action.” His work in the Colorado River has documented increasing environmental degradation over decades, and communications with environmental nongovernmental organizations and other agencies have been the most effective for negotiating and applying water-management measures in the area to initiate environmental restoration using a geohistorical perspective. The book openly describes that the scientific community continues to struggle with effective communication and integration with practitioners, policymakers, wildlife managers, and conservationists. I believe that future scientific and societal efforts should focus on the application of the science of conservation paleobiology to existing conservation issues. This is not a trivial task because apart from the scarcity of funds available for applied science, the translation from science to application requires that scientists incorporate knowledge of environmental law and policy—and directly and frequently interact and communicate with environmental agencies and organizations. This book includes a plethora of scientific jargon and techniques across disciplines. Much of the terminology is not sufficiently explained or introduced for a broad audience, and accordingly, I would hesitate to recommend this book for nonexperts or as a primary text for an undergraduate course. However, I feel that in combination with state-of-the-art scientific articles, the book could be a powerful resource for researchers and graduate students. This edited ­volume conveys important foundational approaches and outlines the challenges and virtues of using the fossil and subfossil records to provide essential preanthropogenic and early anthropogenic information about the biosphere and initiates the important discussion of translating basic science to the application stage, although there is still a long way to go. References cited Barnosky AD et al.   2017. Merging paleobiology with conservation biology to guide the future of terrestrial ecosystems. Science  355 ( art. eaah4787). Dietl GP, Flessa KW. 2011. Conservation paleobiology: Putting the dead to work. Trends in Ecology and Evolution  26: 30– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Dietl GP, Kidwell SM, Brenner M, Burney DA, Flessa KW, Jackson S, Koch PL. 2015. Conservation paleobiology: Leveraging knowledge of the past to inform conservation and restoration. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences  43: 79– 103. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Kidwell SM. 2015. Biology in the Anthropocene: Challenges and insights from young fossil records. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences  112: 4922– 4929. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

BioScienceOxford University Press

Published: Jun 6, 2018

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