Paleobiology (NOVA Science Seminar)

Science Seminar, presented by the Math, Science, and Engineering Division, Annandale Campus

Date and Time: Friday, March 19, 2010, CE Forum, 12 noon – 1pm

Title: “Telling stories with the fossil record: the ongoing relationship between paleontology and Paleobiology in the 21st century”.

Speaker:    Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, NOVA Faculty

Abstract: What do you imagine when you think of a paleontologist? When Dr. Fitzgerald thinks of a ‘paleontologist,’ he  pictures a scientist scouring the dark, musty halls of a natural history museum collection or excavating a fossil from rock using a hammer, a brush, and a dental pick. However, when he thinks of a ‘paleobiologist’, he  thinks of someone who is more of a storyteller – someone who paints a more vivid picture of how individuals, communities, or ecosystems function and change through geologic time. In this talk, he will discuss the ongoing relationship between paleontology and paleobiology using examples from my own research on Paleozoic extinction patterns in a brachiopod clade – the Terebratulida. This clade is invaluable for investigating questions about the evolutionary consequences of mass extinction as they suffered mass mortality during both the Late Devonian and end-Permian mass extinctions. In both cases, however, some terebratulide lineages survived and subsequently radiated to diversity levels rivaling those prior to the extinctions. Therefore, we can as paleontologists compare the nuanced, minute details of surviving lineages to that of the extinction ‘victims’, and as paleobiologists use that information make statements about the ecological consequences of mass extinctions on clades.

Paul Fitzgerald has had a love of general science for as long as he can remember and his first job was at the Saint Louis Zoo. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Organismal Biology from Southeast Missouri State University in 1997, and he subsequently worked as a statistician for the Saint Louis Public Schools. In 2000, he made the life-changing decision to formally pursue his love of evolutionary biology and the fossil record and earned his PhD  in Paleobiology at the University of California, Davis in 2006. He says that he has been happily teaching Biology, and some Geology, here at NOVA ever since.

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