Standard Article

Palaeoecology: Methods

  1. Rebecca C Terry

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003274



How to Cite

Terry, R. C. 2009. Palaeoecology: Methods. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (16 JAN 2017)


Paleoecology is based on the documentation of occurrences and abundances of taxa across time and space. Although methodologically similar to the techniques of neontological ecologists, the discipline is distinct in its integration of a deeper time axis into our understanding of the processes shaping the earth's ecological patterns. Taphonomy is the study of the processes by which organic remains become incorporated into the fossil record. Since this record is both incomplete and biased, multiple taphonomic approaches have been developed to quantify the reliability of the ecological information it preserves. As such, a fundamental issue in paleoecology relates to the sampling and counting of individuals. Although the nature of the preserving sediments often exerts the primary control on how data are collected, techniques exist to standardize sampling and counting strategies to maximize our ability to detect ecological patterns and gain insight into the processes shaping both ancient and modern communities.

Key Concepts:

  • Paleoecologists study ancient organisms and ecosystem dynamics over evolutionary time scales.

  • Taphonomic studies have shown that the quality of ecological information preserved in the fossil record is high.

  • The preservation potential of organic remains is a function of depositional environment as well as structural, chemical and behavioural characteristics of an organism.

  • Sample standardization is an important consideration for paleoecological data collection and analysis.

  • Biography information: Rebecca C Terry is a paleoecologist and taphonomist with a research focus on small mammal community dynamics through the Holocene.


  • taphonomy;
  • ecology;
  • paleontology;
  • fossils;
  • preservation