Paleoecology and Global Change
Over the millennia, global and regional climates and environments experienced dramatic changes. The responses of plants, animals, and, for the last 11,000 years, of humans are recored in the fossil and archaeological record. Museum scientists are reconstructing past environments through a wide variety of innovative programs.
- Museum palynologists study fossil pollen preserved in the sediments of ancient lakes and bogs to document changes in Illinois vegetation and climate from the open spruce woodlands of the late Ice Age-through the development of the Illinois prairie-through the rapid changes of the last 3,000 years. The museum is home for two North American databases funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The North American Pollen Database (NAPD) tabulates fossil and contemporary pollen from hundreds of localities. The Paleovegetation Database of the Americans (POA) quantifies data from plant fossils collected from sites and packrat middens.
- Museum paleontologists collect and identify vertebrate fossils from archaeological and paleontological sites to study the evolution of animal life and changes in distributions, environments and climates. Studies of fauna from the Sangamon Interglacial (120,000 years ago), when giant tortoises roamed in Illinois, and from the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago), when Ice-Age animals such as mammoth, mastodon, stag-moose, giant beaver, and ground sloth went extinct, provide dramatic evidence for the consequences of previous periods of global warming. FAUNMAP, funded by the National Scienc Foundation, is a national database that charts the distributions of mammals over the last 40,000 years, thus permitting scientists to examine patterns and seek causes for changes.
- Museum paleobotanists study 300-million year old plant fossils in order to characterize the radically different inland see, swamp, and upland environments of the Coal Age. These plant fossils tell us of a different world when the continents were united in an ancient landmass known as Gondwana-separated today through continental drift.
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© Illinois State Museum Society-- Last updated 21-Mar-96 by Erich Schroeder