How do you become a paleontologist?


What is paleontology?

Paleontology deals with the evolution of plant and animal organisms from the emergence of the simplest life around 3.8 billion years ago to Homo sapiens. It forms the interface between biology on the one hand and geology on the other. Accordingly, there are more biologically oriented fields of work (e.g. paleobiology, taxonomy, nomenclature, evolution, functional morphology, genetics) and more geologically oriented questions (e.g. biostratigraphy, fossil conservation). However, both areas also overlap considerably (paleoceanography, paleecology, paleobiogeography, reconstruction of fossil habitats, trace fossils).

Paleontology has a key role to play in predicting future developments in the biosphere and thus also in the development of mankind. There are rapid, almost sudden changes that are associated with global mass extinctions. The most recent of these mass extinctions on the Cretaceous / Paleogene border made it possible for mammals to flourish. Gradual changes in the flora and fauna spectrum are also well known.

In order to understand fossil habitats, in addition to large plant and animal remains (macropalaeontology), preferably microorganisms (micropalaeontology) are used. The latter offer the advantage of occurring in large numbers even in small sample quantities and can therefore also be examined in drill cores. The field of micropalaeontology in particular is currently experiencing a boom, as microfossils are increasingly being used in oil prospecting for the temporal dating of sedimentary sequences.

Other modern approaches in paleontology use fossil groups of organisms to reconstruct the paleoclimate and paleoceanography of fossil marine spaces. Understanding fossil food chains and networks is a prerequisite for clarifying development processes in the biosphere. Furthermore, the geo-biosphere interaction plays an essential role in these process-oriented questions.