In a perspective piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, "Biology in the Anthropocene: Challenges and insights from young fossil records," William Rainey Harper Professor Sue Kidwell explains how young fossil records can be used to detect and understand the far-reaching effects of humans on ecosystems. The geological period in which humans have exerted a dominant forcing on Earth's surface has been informally termed the "Anthropocene," and Professor Kidwell shows that this era began long before the 20th century. Global warming and ocean acidification are only one aspect of human disruption of ecosystems; there are many others such as habitat destruction and nutrification. In the paper, Professor Kidwell gives an overview of how fossil records from the past thousand years or so can be used to discover changes in biological baselines that are essential for understanding human impacts and current biological systems. Few study areas remain truly natural and most observed variation is superimposed on trends rather than steady states.
Professor Kidwell is a member of our "Evolution of Earth's Biosphere" research program, which includes the top-ranked paleontology program in the country. This group combines active student advising with exciting research that often includes a field component. In addition to regular paleontological talks at our department seminar, we also organize a weekly "Evoluationary Morphology" seminar. Interested students can apply either through our department, or through the Committee on Evolutionary Biology.