Invertebrate Paleontology

The Growth and Development of the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology

The Biostratigraphy Period
With the growth of the oil industry in the 1940s through 1960s, paleontology took a different, more utilitarian direction from the previous century and a half. Since the time of William Smith, who in the 1700s created the first geologic map, it had been known that rocks could be equated (correlated) in different areas based on their fossil content. This ability to correlate became known as the sub-discipline of stratigraphy. In the efforts to recover oil during the mid-Twentieth Century, fossils were used as a tool for the recognition of age-specific drilling targets and for correlation of productive rock layers within and between oil fields. The use of fossils in this way gave rise to the sub-discipline of biostratigraphy. However, the immediate consequence was that paleontology was regarded as a sub-discipline of the field of stratigraphy, rather than as a separate field of its own.

The Paleobiology Period

By the late 1960s it was recognized, through a number of seminal works, that invertebrate fossils were distributed through the rock record not only with respect to time but also to space. The recognition that certain genera and species recurred within certain rock types (lithologies) led researchers to the initiation of the field of paleoecology. It is the concept that fossils lived in biologic communities and were captured in time in the rock record. This in turn led to the creation of the sub-discipline that is part biology and part geology known as paleobiology.

Like paleontology before it, the new field of paleobiology exhibited growth stages. The 1970s can be called the "paleoecology stage." During this time, much of the literature dealt with the ecology of ancient communities and how they were distributed through time and space. By the 1980s the emphasis had switched to major extinction events and how the Earth's biosphere evolved in relation to these catastrophic biotic periods. In the 1990s the science moved toward recognition of major evolutionary events, and the relationships between ecology, biogeography, and evolutionary tempo.

Although early paleobiologists developed elaborate theories based on Treatise information, basic paleontology continued to describe new species and update ranges of taxa during the 1960s to 1990s. Thus, many of the early paleobiologic hypotheses are replete with erroneous assumptions, because the authors relied solely on outdated Treatise information and had failed to incorporate new taxonomic material. So overwhelming was this new information that an updated Treatise had to be published in multiple volumes.

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