Paleoecology and Paleontology

STRI’s research in paleoecology concerns studies of changes in marine and terrestrial communities over geologic time scales, and studies of human perturbation and manipulation of plants over millennia. STRI’s paleoecology research program is ambitious and has a wide scope. We seek to understand important issues in tropical geology, biology and archaeology that have proved resistant to study through more traditional avenues of research. These issues include the rise of the Isthmus of Panama and the profound effects that the emergence of this land bridge had on global climate, including the beginning of the Ice Age; the Miocene through late Quaternary climatic and biotic history of marine communities and lowland tropical flora; and the origins and dispersals of tropical forest agriculture.

STRI scientists develop and use an arsenal of techniques to study these problems. Proxy indicators for historical reconstruction include marine invertebrates and microfossils, and pollen, phytoliths, diatoms, and starch grains. The Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology houses collections of all of these fossils and their modern counterparts.

Our records are of more than special scholarly interest. Models of ecosystem restoration or collapse, and ecological effects of future climate change depend heavily on long term records to help decipher long term signals from noise, and to estimate the possible magnitude of biological response. Paleoecological data on post-Columbian forest recovery, for example, will become critical for building viable models of sustainable forest management and reforestation. Moreover, most work in modeling future climate is still focused on the temperate and polar zones, when tropical processes are increasingly being recognized as fundamental in influencing events on a global scale (e.g., how the rise of the Isthmus of Panama affected global oceanic circulation and heat transfer).

Staff scientists researching Paleoecology & Paleontology