Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 449–463 | Cite as

Scanning the fossil record: stratophenomics and the generation of primary evolutionary-ecological data

  • Jan A. van DamEmail author
Ideas & Perspectives


The amount and quality of paleontological data is rapidly increasing thanks to the new developments in geological dating, 3D visualization and morphometrics, chemical and histological analysis, and database storage. However, despite the fact that data from fossils, their assemblages, temporal successions, spatial gradients and environments are of an evolutionary-ecological nature, their contribution to current mainstream evolutionary-ecological theory and methodology is low. The use of fossils is not seldom restricted to calibration (e.g., in phylogenetics), or source for historical speculation after having analyzed modern data first (e.g., in macroecology). Yet, the scale of resolution of many paleontological time series (103–105 years) is highly apt for studying the dynamics of species, the average lifetime of which is in the order of 106–107 years. In order to fully profit from the wealth of data from the rock archive, a large-scale “stratophenomics” approach is needed. The resulting data archives will not only further contribute to an increase in the knowledge of past species, communities and environments, but will also generate more and innovative theory on the mechanisms underlying species and higher taxon dynamics. Examples of new and promising approaches towards generating paleontological data will be presented under the headings of the three major stratophenomics dimensions: time, morphology and environment. Highlighted fields include astrochronology, sclerochronology and 3D morphometrics.


Paleontology Stratigraphy Evolution Macroecology Stratophenomics Morphometrics 



I thank Dean Adams, Frits Hilgen, Salvador Moyà-Solà, and three reviewers for their constructive comments. The study was supported by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (project CGL2008–00325/BTE).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)Cerdanyola del VallèsSpain

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