Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Mark J. Thompson
Paleontology is the study of prehistoric plant and animal life. It is made possible by fossils: the remains and traces of once-living organisms that have become preserved in rock. Fossils enable paleontology to not only measure the shapes and diversity of past life but also to determine the nature of ancient environments, reconstruct paleoecologies, and observe the patterns of evolutionary change. To achieve this, paleontology integrates extensively with other earth, biological, and physical sciences, and more recently with mathematics, planetology, and climatology. Paleontological research has made significant contributions to understanding geological and biological processes, such as global tectonics and organic evolution. Important for human nature, this has enabled us to observe our own evolutionary heritage and relationships with other species through the fossil record. Amid growing concern for the natural health of earth, paleontologists provide valuable data for the study of climate change and extinctions. Most organic remains and traces ...