How good is the fossil record? More specifically, what is the quality of ecological information contained within fossil deposits? Although paleontologists make evolutionary and paleoecological conclusions based on the fossils they find, our understanding of how bone accumulations (death assemblages) form and how well they mirror their source populations is limited. I study modern bone accumulations (Yellowstone National Park; Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Amboseli National Park, Kenya) and the ecological information contained within them to more fully understand the kinds of biological questions we can ask using modern and fossil death assemblages.
Can bone accumulations help us conserve and manage modern ecosystems? A great challenge for modern management and conservation is the limited number of years that we have studied most ecosystems. In addition, most (likely all) ecosystems have been altered by humans in some way. Particularly in light of global warming and other anthropogenic perturbations, studying current populations may not help us to grasp baseline (i.e. “natural”, pre-human-modified) conditions. Because surficial bone accumulations contain data from numerous generations, they are a source of historical insight which can help us understand place modern animal populations in a better historical context and allow us to establish conservation and management strategies that incorporate data across extended durations of ecological time (decades to millennia).