One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History

By Ronald E. Martin | Go to book overview

5
Biological Processes Inferred from
the Fossil Record

Does ecology matter! —/. B. C. Jackson (1988)

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. —Marx

By now the reader must be convinced that nothing concrete can be obtained by studying the fossil record. Studying Earth’s history must be a complete waste of time because the geologic record is too incomplete or too scrambled to document or prove anything. Nevertheless, the fossil record not only allows us to assess the impact of ecological processes over periods of time much longer than those normally considered by an ecologist, but also reveals that there are likely to be processes (as indicated by patterns in the fossil record) that occur only on long timescales. To corrupt Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, the pattern is the process (maybe). Moreover, time-averaging of fossil assemblages actually enhances expression of ecological signals because it damps (filters) out short-term noise (Wilson, 1988; McKinney 1991). That is not to say that understanding how ecological signals are filtered or smoothed is not important; it is if we are to understand what gets incorporated into the fossil record (hence all the equations in chapter 3).

These patterns, and presumably the processes that produced them, are by no means strictly academic. They bear strongly on humankind’s impact on the health and biotic diversity of the planet. Paleontology and stratigraphy bear on such environmental phenomena as population dynamics, speciation, and extinction; the organization and resilience of biological communities to disturbance; and the occurrence of

-95-

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One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Prologue - Methodology and Proof in Historical Science 1
  • 1 - Scale, Measurement, and Process- An Introduction 9
  • 2 - The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record- Curds and Whey 24
  • 3 - Random Walks in Muck 53
  • 4 - Time and Taphonomy 72
  • 5 - Biological Processes Inferred from the Fossil Record 95
  • 6 - Cycles and Secular Trends 132
  • 7 - Energy and Evolution 163
  • 8 - Extinction 186
  • Epilogue- the Nature of Nature 212
  • References 217
  • Index 253
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