What can the interactions of ancient mammals and their environments tell us about the present – and the future?
Classic palaeontology 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 palaeoecology: 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 palaeoecology, 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 palaeoecology, including stable isotopes, ancient DNA, owl pellets, Sporormiella fungal spores, and palaeomidden 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 long-dead animals and what this information can tell us about the environments of the distant past. It will profoundly affect the way palaeontologists and climatologists view the lives of ancient mammals.
Part I: General Principles of Paleoecology
2. Old Bones, footprints and trace evidence of life
3. Taphonomy – putting the dead to work
4. Determining age and context
Part II: Characterizing the ecology of fossil organisms
5. On being the right size
6. Show me your teeth and I will tell you what you are
7. Stable isotopes and the reconstruction of mammalian movement, diet and trophic relationships
8. Non-traditional 'fossils'
9. Reconstructing past climate
Part III: Using paleoecology to understand the present
10. The past as prologue: the importance of a deeper temporal perspective in climate change research
11. Biodiversity on Earth
Felisa A. Smith (Santa Fe, NM) is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of New Mexico. She is the coeditor of Animal Body Size: Linking Pattern and Process across Space, Time, and Taxonomic Group and Foundations of Macroecology: Classic Papers with Commentaries.
"This lucid book argues that studying past communities is essential for understanding how different today's are – and increasingly so. Smith presents the necessary interpretive scientific background, shows how the present differs from even the recent past, and reveals why those changes are so important not only for animals and plants, but for us too."
– David R. Pilbeam, Harvard University, coeditor of Chimpanzees and Human Evolution
"This engaging, timely synthesis employs a paleoecologic perspective, mammalian ecosystems of the past, to interpret the present and predict the future. The book is chock full of examples, as Smith draws on more than three decades of field experience in the American Southwest to teach valuable lessons about species diversity, body size, diet, and environmental challenges."
– Annalisa Berta, San Diego State University, co-author of Rebels, Scholars, Explorers: Women in Vertebrate Paleontology
"A lucid introduction to the paleoecology of mammals, drawing on their late Quaternary fossil record from North America. It introduces paleobiologists to ecology while providing a wealth of information concerning fossils for ecologists. Late Quaternary mammals provide critical case studies for assessing the impact of changing climates on species today."
– Hans-Dieter Sues, National Museum of Natural History
"A tour de force. One of the world's most eminent evolutionary biologists, Felisa Smith synthesizes paleontology and ecology to tell the story of mammal evolution and put today's environmental crisis into the perspective of Earth history. Both readable and authoritative, this book is invaluable for anyone looking to understand how real organisms respond to real moments of environmental change."
– Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
"This book illustrates the importance of insights from the fossil record for understanding the scope of human disruptions to continental ecosystems over many stages of human history. Throughout, Smith highlights the contributions of women to developing empirical and analytical approaches to paleoecology. A valuable resource for paleontologists, anthropologists, and environmental scientists."
– Catherine Badgley, University of Michigan