What if you understood all the changes in the natural world, just because you looked at rocks and unlocked their secrets?
- A name change to ‘Palaeobiology’
- 100's of feathered fossils discovered in China in the 1990's
- The confirmation that Birds are descended from Dinosaurs (Willis)
- Proteins have been removed from fossils (Lester, 2007)
- A protein responsible for colour was found in fossil feathers (Zhang et al. 2010)
- The discovery that DNA will only last about 6.8 Million years (Barras, 2012)
- The sex of some fossils has been confirmed (Chinsamy et al. 2012)
- 65 Million years ago an asteroid wiped out the Dinosaurs, quickly. (Klotz, 2013)
|It took over 100 years before scientists confirmed|
that birds were dinosaur decendents (image source)
- “Paleontologists teach anatomy at many medical schools.”
- “Fossils play an important role in oil discovery.”
- “Paleontology is a good ‘gateway drug’ to the other sciences.”
- “Paleontology is a good way to teach critical thinking skills.”
- “Paleontology is inherently interesting; it doesn’t need further justification.” (Werning, 2013)
Unfortunately, none of these reasons explain why Palaeontology is important. Reading Sarah’s article I realised my responses have changed over time. Instead of using one of the ‘public-friendly’ reasons, I now talk about Palaeobiology in terms of understanding ancient life so we can better understand life today. For example:
- “Knowing what happened to living things when it got hotter or colder in the past, we can understand the effects of climate change today.”
- “We can gain greater insights into how evolution works.”
- “The current rate of extinction can be calculated after studying past mass extinctions.”
|The extinction of non-avian Dinosaurs had a big impact |
on the evolution of mammals, including humans. (image source)
Palaeobiology is not limited to a science that lists everything that came before us, it puts those organisms into context. It is the context that is important.
Palaeontology is becoming increasingly relevant. The key to the future of life and the earth is locked up in the rocks, all we need to do is decode it. Like most sciences, it is constantly evolving and being built upon. The changes and discoveries, since the 1960’s, mean we can understand our past and present better than ever before.
What other ways do you think Palaeontology has changed, or is relevant?
You can read Sarah Werning's article at Plos Blogs http://blogs.plos.org/paleo/2013/02/19/why-paleontology-is-relevant/
Willis, P. abc.net.au, Dinosaurs and Birds The Story
Chinsamy et al. 2012. Nature Communications 4: 1381
Lester, B. 2007. Cosmos Online, Protein extracted from T. rex fossil
Zhang et al. 2010. Nature 463: 1075-1078
Barras, C. 2012. New Scientist: Life, DNA's half-life identified using fossil bone