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Re: All other life...



Darren maintains that palaeontology cannot contribute to current
environmental debates because ours is a unique case. While I would agree on
the latter point, I strongly disagree on the former. We can, for example,
discuss the long-term effect on flora and fauna due to increased CO2 levels
in the atmosphere. Here in Australia (I note that Darren is in Melbourne)
we can make profound observations on the environmental health of the
continent based on the fossil record and I would urge Darren (and other
interested parties) to read Tim Flannerys' "The Future Eaters" on this
theme. The same applies to other areas of the world; the fossil record
gives us a much deeper understanding on the longterm development and health
of an environment that is not achievable from any other data set.

Let me give a simple example; up until around 10,000 years ago, we had a
mega fauna in Australia. Now think about Diprotodon, a 1,000kg hay-burner
that must have circulated tonnes of plant material per animal, per year.
Mulitply this effort by the number of Diprotodon around at any one time (up
to a million may be?), multiply this effort by the number of other
megafaunal elements that went extinct and any clown can see that, prior to
the collapse of the megafauna, a significant proportion of the nutrients in
the Australian environment were being circulated by the large marsupials.
That whole cycle has been removed. How long does it take for an environment
to adjust to that loss? I would suggest that, in a very real sense, we are
still suffering from the loss of the megafauna simply on the aspect of
nutrient cycling, not to mention the increased burning cycles due to the
uneaten fuel they have left behind. If we don't recognise that our
ecosystems are still in a period of adjustment from an event 10,000 years
ago, how are we going to properly and sustainably manage them?

As historians of life, palaeontologists do have an important role to play
in environmental debates beyond doomsday stories of what it is like to go
extinct.



Cheers, Paul

pwillis@ozemail.com.au

Five points to all readers who realised that there is no such thing as a
phacoptid trilobite. Lose the five marks if you didn't make the logical
connection and tried to see the image anyway.