All posts tagged: stable isotopes of the element strontium

Fossils Could Help Prepare for an Uncertain Climate

Fossils Could Help Prepare for an Uncertain Climate

This article was originally published in Knowable Magazine. Conservationists seeking to restore shark populations off the Atlantic coast of Panama were facing a problem all too familiar to biologists: No records existed to document what pristine shark communities looked like before overfishing decimated the animals over the past few decades. Without that information, how could the restoration workers know what they should be aiming for? Erin Dillon, a paleoecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, thought she had the solution. By sampling microfossils—dermal denticles, the “little teeth on the shark’s skin,” as she describes them—deposited on the ocean floor, Dillon was able to reconstruct a picture of shark communities in the region before human disturbance. Shark abundance in the Caribbean reefs has declined by more than 70 percent, she found, with fast-swimming, open-water sharks hit the hardest. Dillon is one of the rising stars in the new field of conservation paleobiology, which uses the fossil record to inform and assist present-day conservation efforts. “We often need some sense of the way things used …