Advances in Earth Science
• Articles •
ZHANG Miman,CHEN Xu. PALAEONTOLOGY：PROGRESS IN THE LAST CENTURY AND DEVELOPING STRATEGY FOR THE COMING DECADES[J]. Advances in Earth Science, 2001, 16(5): 624-628.
During the past century we have accumulated an enormous amount of basic biological, taxonomic and biostratigraphic data. This enormous accumulation has made possible major advances in evolutionary theory. For example, Dobzhansky’s (1937) “Genetics and the Origin of Species”, Mayr’s (1942) “Systematics and the Origin of Species”, and Simpson’s (1944) “Tempo and Mode of Evolution”. Hennig’s (1950) development of phylogenetic systematics, “cladistics,” has made for a methodological revolution. Work on the Early Cambrian “explosion”, Phanerozoic extinctions and adaptive radiations make it possible for the paleontologist to begin to recognize macroevolutionary patterns and problems. The concept of “punctuated equilibrium” as viewed by Eldredge and Gould (1972) as a challenge to darwinism, but this has since proved not to be the case in the opinion of many geneticists. China during the past century has become increasingly the world leader in providing unique insights into life of the past. The unique Chengjiang marine fauna and the distinctive organisms associated with the feathered dinosaurs have attracted worldwide attention. These biotas are radically changing ideas on the history of life. Work on biostratigraphic questions globally has resulted in the developent of an increasingly reliable chronostratigraphy. The unique character of the continuous marine stratigraphic record in South China has provided an excellent place with which to establish global GSSP standards. We suggest that the following four possibilities for future work during coming decades be seriously considered: (1) Work on the relation between potentially co-evolved organisms and geological evidence for changing physical environments. This work might find out just how seriously environmental changes have affected evolutionary changes through time. (2) Based on the excellent, presently available Chinese data we can investigate more deeply into the macroevolutionary process, involving such things as the cause(s) of adaptive radiations and extinctions. It is possible that the present macroevolutionary models based largely on data from the present, may be oversimplifications that may be considerably altered after paleontological data has been considered more carefully. (3) We need to take advantage of the very detailed Chinese biostratigraphic data for improving much of the presently too approximate global correlations. As indicated above, additional work will probably lead to the approval of additional GSSP standards situated in China. (4) We are well situated to make real breakthroughs by combining the results of solid, basic paleontology at which we excel, with molecular biology, where we are just beginning our efforts.