Paleontology is the study of fossils. A fossil is defined as any evidence or remains of a past life form. Thus, although wood, bones, and shells are the most common fossils, under certain conditions soft tissue, tracks and trails, and even eggs may be preserved as fossils.
Paleontologists study fossils and attempt to use them to reconstruct the history of the Earth and the life on it. Some paleontologists study the ecology of ancient communities; others work on the development of fossil forms through time. Paleontologists are employed in the petroleum industry interpreting ancient environments and stratigraphic sequences. They work in the environmental industry as well as in academic and museum settings. Paleontologists who work on relatively recent fossils have developed approaches to reconstructing past climates and environments. Today, environmental change, global warming, and so on are household words. Paleontologists can provide historical data on past climates and apply it towards understanding future trends and their likely effects. If we understand the effects of climate change, for instance, on our world in the past, we can understand its probable effects in the future.
Finally, paleontology is an increasingly important component of historical biology. The life around us today has been shaped through its long history, and understanding its past is important to understanding its present situation.
Understanding ancient life forms requires both an examination of the fossil record and living organisms.
Professor, (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma)
Assistant Professor (Ph.D., Yale University)