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Movement paleoecology, trace fossils, and the evolution of behavior

PI(s): Roy Plotnick (University of Illinois)
Start Date: 16-Jan-2010
End Date: 17-Apr-2010

I will develop a new framework for the study of the evolution of behavior as represented by trace fossils (ichnofossils), which are the preserved remains of the activities of organisms, such as tracks and burrows. As the only direct record of the behavior of ancient organisms, they are potentially key to studying the evolution of behavior over geologic time scales. Unfortunately, this usage has been hampered by the lack of integration of trace fossil research (ichnology) with the far larger body of research on the ecology and evolution of behavior. For example, the prevailing “ethological classification” of trace fossils has no counterparts in the behavioral literature of biologists studying extant organisms.
Nathan et al. (2008, PNAS) have called for a new “movement ecology paradigm for unifying organismal movement research.” The adoption of this paradigm within ichnology would help place these studies in a far wider common context for the study of movement, while adding the dimension of deep time to research on the evolution of movement. This has direct implications for our understanding of major events in the evolution of sensory, nervous, and locomotive systems, such as during the Cambrian radiation of animals.

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