Paleontology and The Origins of Biodiversity

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I'm interested in 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 a fraction of 1% of all the species that have ever lived. To understand the origins of this diversity we need 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 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 can't infer the existence of the Chicxulub asteroid impact, four-winged birds, or the Northern Hemisphere origin of marsupials from the modern biota; and you can't understand the origins of modern diversity without this kind of information.
    Paleontology is sometimes thought of as a minor offshoot of evolutionary biology, but it's far from it. Evolutionary biology as a discipline is less than 200 years old, but it's a process that has been going on for almost four billion years. Trying to understand 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.