The University of California's Museum of Paleontology defines paleontology as the study of what fossils reveal about the ecologies of the past, evolution and the place of humans in the world. The various types of paleontologists use knowledge from anthropology, archaeology, biology, geology, ecology and computer science to determine the origin and destruction of the different types of organisms that have existed on Earth.
Micropaleontology is the study of mostly microscopic fossils, which includes fossils of tiny invertebrate shells or skeletons, bacteria, spores, pollen and the small bones and teeth of large vertebrates. According to University College London, micropalaeontology is probably the largest branch of paleontology, because so many fossils are of such a small size.
Paleoanthropology, also called human paleontology, is the study of the prehistoric human past based on artifacts and fossilized human bones, and the context in which these specimens are found. This discipline is a combination of paleontology and physical anthropology.
Taphonomy is the study of the processes of decay, preservation and how fossils are formed. According to the University of Arizona Geosciences, taphonomists ask specific questions: Does the assembly of the fossil accurately represent the original organism? Was any material lost or did the material condense during the fossilization process? How long was the fossil in the rocks?
Vertebrate and Invertebrate Paleontologists
Vertebrate paleontologists study vertebrate fossils from animals with spines, ranging from primitive fishes to mammals. Invertebrate paleontologists study invertebrate animal fossils, such as mollusks and echinoderms.
Palynology is the study of living and fossilized pollen and spores. The hard, outer shells of pollen grains from different species are unique and can survive in favorable conditions for thousands of years. Palynolgists can identify plants that lived in the past and identify broad environmental trends based on plant life.
Other Types of Paleontologists
A paleobotanist studies fossil plants, including fossil algae, fungi and land plants. An ichnologist studies fossil tracks, trails and footprints. A paleoecologist studies the ecology and climate of the past and the interactions and responses of ancient organisms with changing environments.
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