What can the interactions of ancient mammals and their environments tell us about the present—and the future?
Classic paleontology has focused on the study of fossils and the reconstruction of lineages of extinct species. But as diverse fossils of animals and plants were unearthed and catalogued, it became possible to reconstruct more elaborate ecosystems, tying together plants, animals, and geology. By the second half of the twentieth century, this effort gave birth to the field of paleoecology: the study of the interactions between organisms and their environments across geologic timescales.
In Mammalian Paleoecology, Felisa Smith broadly considers extinct mammals in an ecological context. Arguing that the past has much to teach us and that mammals, which display an impressive array of diverse life history and ecological characteristics, are the ideal organism through which to view the fossil record, Smith
• reviews the history, major fossil-hunting figures, and fundamental principles of paleoecology, including stratigraphy, dating, and taphonomy
• discusses the importance of mammal body size, how to estimate size, and what size and shape reveal about long-dead organisms
• explains the structure, function, and utility of different types of mammal teeth
• highlights other important methods and proxies used in modern paleoecology, including stable isotopes, ancient DNA, and paleomidden analyses
• assesses nontraditional fossils
• presents readers with several case studies that describe how the fossil record can help inform the scientific discussion on anthropogenic climate change
Mammalian Paleoecology is an approachable overview of how we obtain information from fossils and what this information can tell us about the environments of the distant past. It will profoundly affect the way paleontologists and climatologists view the lives of ancient mammals.
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