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Tuesday, September 8Sue Ware, Ph.D
The Jagged Edge: The Predator - Prey Interface In the Fossil Record
The predator - prey relationship is among the most tenuous, delicate, interesting, complicated and significant aspects of all interaction among living things.
The trophic structure of every species population must be studied in the context of its position on the food chain, its survival strategy and its ability to thrive and evolve.
Keystone predator species regulate diversity and abundance in all ecosystems and the avoidance of predation is a critical component in the survival of prey species.
Observing and understanding the dynamics of the predator - prey interface is a daunting task when the subjects of the study have been dead for millennia. Through an interdisciplinary study approach using taphonomy, paleopathology, bone analysis, microscopy, and observation of extant species, paleontologists and osteologists can begin to analyze and study the predator's strategies and prey's ability to avoid predation as it is represented in the fossil record.
From the earliest evidence of predation by Anomalocaris in the Burgess Shale fauna to Smilodon in the Pleistocene faunal assemblages at Rancho La Brea, we see the impact of predation and the various responses of prey species as they attempt to compensate and avoid various modes of attack.
There is no life without death, and it is intriguing and exciting to examine the fossil record to determine the "who, what, when, where and why" of this delicately balanced evolutionary interaction, over time.