Paleontology: Web of Life

Scientists are now telling us that all of life is interdependent. Every creature, great or small, depends upon the vast, interconnected web of life for its survival. Well, that’s an intriguing idea, but how do we know it’s true? Part of the evidence comes from the study of the past. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

“The fossil record, in paleontology, informs our whole notion of biodiversity and the importance of biodiversity.

Michael Novacek is Senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “Let’s look at a cornerstone of the ideas about biodiversity that are so important to us now. One is that all species are interdependent– that ecosystems are fashioned from the dependence of one species’ existence upon the other–whether it’s parasites or feeders, or whatever– the web of life as we call it. We have tangible evidence of that dependence in the fossil record. We know that the loss of certain habitat, of plants in a habitat, is coupled with the loss of animals that interact with them. We know that the emergence, for instance, 20 million years ago, of drier conditions, more open grassland habitats, had profound influence on the evolution of animals– like horses which became better runners, grazers, what have you. So we have very profound and powerful evidence of this basic element of biodiversity, the linkages between these different lifeforms. And it is demonstrable historically.”

For transcripts of this and other programs in our series, please visit our web site at www.pulseplanet.com. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Paleontology: Web of Life

Fossil records show how changes in the environment affect the evolution of animals.
Air Date:05/06/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

Scientists are now telling us that all of life is interdependent. Every creature, great or small, depends upon the vast, interconnected web of life for its survival. Well, that's an intriguing idea, but how do we know it's true? Part of the evidence comes from the study of the past. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

"The fossil record, in paleontology, informs our whole notion of biodiversity and the importance of biodiversity.

Michael Novacek is Senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. "Let's look at a cornerstone of the ideas about biodiversity that are so important to us now. One is that all species are interdependent-- that ecosystems are fashioned from the dependence of one species' existence upon the other--whether it's parasites or feeders, or whatever-- the web of life as we call it. We have tangible evidence of that dependence in the fossil record. We know that the loss of certain habitat, of plants in a habitat, is coupled with the loss of animals that interact with them. We know that the emergence, for instance, 20 million years ago, of drier conditions, more open grassland habitats, had profound influence on the evolution of animals-- like horses which became better runners, grazers, what have you. So we have very profound and powerful evidence of this basic element of biodiversity, the linkages between these different lifeforms. And it is demonstrable historically."

For transcripts of this and other programs in our series, please visit our web site at www.pulseplanet.com. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.