Paleozoology, also spelled Palaeozoology, is a branch of many other sciences including zoology and paleontology that focuses on recovering cellular matter from animal remains that are large enough to be seen without the help of a microscope, known as macrofossils. This study is primarily used in the context of archeology and geology and aids in recreating ancient ecosystems and prehistoric environments. Paleozoologists study the tissues of many types of animals including sharks, echinoderms, trilobites, and mollusks, but the most well-known creatures they study are dinosaurs. The easiest remains to study, however, are shells, teeth, and bones, because these do not decay at the same rate as tissue.

Vertebrate paleozoology uses temporal, stratigraphic, and morphological information to map the history of a vertebrate as it relates to the theory of evolution. With this method, vertebrates are listed in order of their existence, from heterostracans to mammals and birds. Although all of the vertebrates studied are placed under the same standards, it is thought that this method is not conducive to calculating the population numbers of species with limited fossil data.

Another method used by paleozoologists, known as quantitative paleozoology, focuses on gathering a census of fossils, rather than a detailed inventory of individual remains. This helps to identify which species were higher in number is certain areas. Chester Stock and Hildegarde Howard created the first units to be used in quantitative paleozoology in the 1930’s, beginning with Number of Identified Species (NISP), which calculated the number of fossils from a single species, but this unit was deemed problematic due to large possibilities for error. The second unit the two created, known as Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), attempts to set a base number of individuals to create a fossil record. In rare cases, there are enough fossils to represent an exact amount of individuals. When this occurs, the unit used is Actual Number of Individuals (ANI). Another area of study within quantitative paleozoology is calculating body mass, which can be difficult to accomplish due to variances between ages, seasonal changes, and calculating the weight based only on a skeleton.

The data gathered by paleozoologists is used in conservation biology, which works for the conservation and preservation of living ecosystems and species. Using paleozoology in this science allows conservations to understand population trends of extinct species and living species, as well as causes of extinction that could be relevant to endangered species.

Image Caption: Priscacara liops fossil fish. Credit: SNP/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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