Paleontology and The Origins of Biodiversity

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Our lab is focused on using the fossil record to understand major events in the history of life, and to study the origins and evolution of biodiversity in the broadest sense. The
 diversity we see all around us today is only some small fraction of 1% of all the species that have ever lived. To understand where this diversity comes from we need to look at the fossil record. Fossils tell us things about evolution we would otherwise have no way of knowing. When and where organisms originated. The tempo of evolution. What intermediate forms looked like. The existence of extinction, of mass extinction, and recovery.

 Evolutionary biology has long been focused on the idea that the present is the key to the past, but it's really the other way around. The past is the key to the present- you cannot infer the existence of the Chicxulub asteroid impact, four-winged birds, or the Northern Hemisphere origin of marsupial mammals from the modern biota; and you cannot understand the origins of modern groups without this kind of information.
    Paleontology is sometimes thought of as some minor offshoot of evolutionary biology, but it's far from it. Evolutionary biology as a discipline is less than 200 years old, and yet is a process that has been going on for almost four billion years. Trying to understand the whole of evolution from the fraction of species available to us today is like trying to understand a library from a page of a book, or the history of Europe by skimming a magazine stand, or modern music without knowing the existence of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. It's an incomplete understanding.
    Only a handful of all the species that have existed in the past are represented by living relatives today. Everything else is the domain of the paleontologist.