Linking space and time: Patterns of ecosystem change from paleoecological databases
Paleoecology provides a method to extend the observational record of ecosystem changes over hundreds to thousands of years. Studies are generally carried out single locations or small regions, providing temporal information on ecological changes, and often, environmental drivers. These studies use a multitude of indicators of past changes, including pollen, charcoal, faunal fossils and diatoms. The recent development of paleoecological databases compiling many of these records has extended the temporal aspect of this information source to include a spatial aspect, facilitating investigations into regional dynamics and differences, including vegetation development, mammalian evolution, past climate change and phylogeography. In this talk, databases of pollen sedimentary records will be used to provide examples of these data-driven studies in past ecological change, and the information that may be gleaned from them.
The examples will then be used to discuss the current state of the art and limitations of synthetic paleoecological studies, and how these may be addressed, notably with process-based modeling. Finally, the role of informatics will be discussed as a method that may help integrate paleoecology with the observational record to both improve our ability to study past environmental changes, and help advance our understanding of ecological and biogeographic dynamics, across multiple spatial and temporal scales.