The Future of the Fossil Record

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Science  25 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5423, pp. 2114-2116
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2114

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The fossil record provides a powerful basis for analyzing the controlling factors and impact of biological evolution over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales and in the context of an evolving Earth. An increasingly interdisciplinary paleontology has begun to formulate the next generation of questions, drawing on a wealth of new data, and on methodological advances ranging from high-resolution geochronology to simulation of morphological evolution. Key issues related to evolutionary biology include the biotic and physical factors that govern biodiversity dynamics, the developmental and ecological basis for the nonrandom introduction of evolutionary innovations in time and space, rules of biotic response to environmental perturbations, and the dynamic feedbacks between life and the Earth's surface processes. The sensitivity of evolutionary processes to rates, magnitudes, and spatial scales of change in the physical and biotic environment will be important in all these areas.

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