Paleobotany and paleoecology are related fields of study into ecological conditions of the past.
Paleobotany is the scientific study of ancient plants, using plant fossils found in sedimentary rocks. These fossils can be impressions or compressions of the plants left on the rock's surface, or "petrified" objects, such as wood, which preserve the original plant material in rocklike form. Still other specimens are found in calcified lumps called coal balls, so named because they are usually found in or near coal deposits.
Paleoecology is the scientific study of past environments. Paleoecologists are interested in the ecosystem as a whole and derive their understanding of past environments from different lines of evidence, including fossil plants and animals, ancient soils and rocks. This field of study is important for anyone interested in past organisms because it provides the context for understanding the origin, extinction and adaptation of any particular organism.
The Department of Paleobotany & Paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History houses fossil plants from around the world, from the Precambrian (more than 542 million years ago) to the Pleistocene (as recently as about 10,000 years ago), sampling almost the entirety of the evolutionary history of plants during that span. It is also home to one of the world’s largest collections of modern African pollen, with more than 35,000 slides.
Research in the department focuses on a global view of paleoecology and plant evolution, with emphasis on the interactions between biotic and abiotic elements of an ecosystem, and how these interactions might have impacted the evolution of mammalian lineages within that ecosystem.
The Department of Paleobotany & Paleoecology offers programs that provide opportunity for a more in-depth look at these related disciplines. Undergraduate students interested in a paid summer internship are encouraged to investigate the Kirtlandia Research Internship Program
or contact the curator