Conservation Paleobiology: Leveraging Knowledge of the Past to Inform Conservation and Restoration


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Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences

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Humans now play a major role in altering Earth and its biota. Finding ways to ameliorate human impacts on biodiversity and to sustain and restore the ecosystem services on which we depend is a grand scientific and societal challenge. Conservation paleobiology is an emerging discipline that uses geohistorical data to meet these challenges by developing and testing models of how biota respond to environmental stressors. Here we (a) describe how the discipline has already provided insights about biotic responses to key environmental stressors, (b) outline research aimed at disentangling the effects of multiple stressors, (c) provide examples of deliverables for managers and policy makers, and (d) identify methodological advances in geohistorical analysis that will foster the next major breakthroughs in conservation outcomes. We highlight cases for which exclusive reliance on observations of living biota may lead researchers to erroneous conclusions about the nature and magnitude of biotic change, vulnerability, and resilience.

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