Human society is fascinated with secrets of the past. “Escape into an ancient world,” proclaim the museum exhibits. “Let us show you the marvelous record we have of an extinct lineage that dominated Earth and has left nothing but these fossils behind! An evolutionary dead-end,” paleontological displays bark like a circus sideshow. In spite of such appeals to our most faithful audiences, a paleontologist represents the quintessential natural historian. The careful documentation of the history and biota of natural areas whose record is preserved only in rocks provides context to the more lurid views of the terrors of the past....
Other| October 01, 2001
Is Conservation Biology a Paleontological Pursuit?
ROBYN J. BURNHAM
ROBYN J. BURNHAM
1Robyn J. Burnham has one foot in the 10-million-year old fossil forests of South America and the other foot in modern forests of the tropical lowland Amazon basin. Dr. Burnham uses the perspective of paleovegetation to explain large-scale modern species distributions, while using the details of modern vegetation to interpret ancient small-scale vegetation patterns. Her research on the long-neglected paleofloras of tropical South America has generated a rich collaboration with Bolivian and Ecuadorian geoscientists on the uplift of the Andes Mountains, paleoclimate, and biogeography. Several new species of fossil plants have been added to the emerging picture of tropical South America as it existed before humans altered the landscapes. Robyn's modern tropical forest research is focused in the richest known sites on Earth—the lowland skirts of the Andes Mountains. These efforts have driven her to view conservation efforts in “hotspots” as only one of many solutions to the biodiversity crisis. The tangled vines in the forests of the neotropics hold a particular passion for her, because they contribute one-quarter of all the woody plant species in the forest. She has recognized that “Our knowledge of tropical vines is still rudimentary; we are just scratching the surface of their importance in the ecology of the forests, and have only a glimmer of the role that they could play in medicinal applications.” She has spent many years sampling vines in Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, a site known as one of the jewel spots for tree species richness. An Associate Professor in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Paleontology at the University of Michigan, she is also a Research Associate at both the Smithsonian Institution and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
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PALAIOS (2001) 16 (5): 423-424.
03 Mar 2017
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ROBYN J. BURNHAM; Is Conservation Biology a Paleontological Pursuit?. PALAIOS ; 16 (5): 423–424. doi: https://doi.org/10.1669/0883-1351(2001)016<0423:ICBAPP>2.0.CO;2
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