Module 2: Ecology and Paleoecology Principles

James S. Oliver III and Russell W. Graham, The Pennsylvania State University
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Initial Publication Date: July 5, 2018 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


In this two part activity, students are introduced to the principals of ecology and paleoecology and compare modern ecological relationships with prehistoric ones. In part one, students read about ecological principles such as ecological niches and competitive exclusion, and how these principles can be applied to modern and past organisms. Students answer a series of questions that ask them to apply their knowledge of ecological principles. In the second part, students are introduced to non-analogue biotas and complete a set of exercises using the Neotoma Explorer

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Learning Goals

By the end of this activity, participants will:

  1. Gain knowledge about key ecological principles such as niches and competitive exclusion.
  2. Analyze the relationships between modern and prehistoric biota.
  3. Learn how to use the Neotoma Explorer.

Context for Use

This is a laboratory type exercise that can accompany a lecture series on climate change and biotic response. It can be be used for any size class since it is on line. Classes of about 20-25 are the most ideal of they are being facilitated by an instructor.

This is the second in a series of 7 modules to be used by participants to understand how climate change in the past and future affects the distribution of mammal species. Each module builds on the next to introduce participants to climate patterns, change in climate through time, ecology & paleoecology and the interaction between climate and biotic distributions.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students are given background information and then asked to answer a series of questions in order to assess their comprehension of the material. The exercises in this module require that students use the online Neotoma Explorer. If they have problems with the exercises, they should reread the material, use references that are provided, or be facilitated by an instructor.

Module 2: Ecology and Paleoecology Principles (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2.3MB Jul5 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Neotoma Explorer Hints, Tips, and Cautions When conducting new searches, be sure to cancel previous search criteria. It is easy to forget a previously set criteria and conduct searches on unintended criteria. When examining dates for a deposit, be sure to expand the Analysis Unit column to view the age range. A date range is often given, but the younger age is not visible until you expand the column. You expand the column like you would in Excel by moving your cursor over the line dividing the columns (in the data part of the table) until a the expand icon (vertical line with arrows on either side), clicking and dragging the icon. In selecting ages to examine for change, the ranges can be set at any value in the Age Range Box. However, for most of these exercises, it will probably be preferable if the students used the following ranges as they relate to the basic climate events in North America over the last 20,000 years.



Short essay on principles of ecology and paleoecology with specific examples.

References and Resources


Nature Education Knowledge Project: Ecology

National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis: Kids Do Ecology


Hutchinson, G. E. (1957). Concluding remarks.: Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology.

Semken, H. A., Jr., Graham R. W., and T. W. Stafford, T. W., Jr. (2010). AMS 14C analysis of late Pleistocene non-analog faunal components from 21 cave deposits in southeastern North America. Quaternary International. 217, 240-255.

Williams, J. W., & Jackson, S. T. (2007). Novel climates, no-analog communities, and ecological surprises. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 5(9), 475-482