CPEG logo
CPEG logo by Jed Atkinson

Thanks to everyone who attended CPEG2018 at the University of Leeds. We hosted over 80 delegates from over 10 countries from as far afield as Australia, the USA and Israel. We saw an excellent variety of ecological talks and posters and hope to have facilitated more crossing of the time gap that spans palaeontology and ecology. We hope to see you all again in 2 years time for CPEG v2 #CPEG2020.

Conference report

This integrative conference exceeded its nominal goal to bridge the gap between palaeontology and ecology, spanning in addition the divisions between empirical work and theory, micro- and macro-evolution, and population demographics and species responses. Three palaeobiologists from the UK organised the event: Alex Dunhill (University of Leeds), Emily Mitchell(Univesity of Cambridge) and Erin Saupe (University of Oxford); the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds provided the venue. The Palaeontological Association and British Ecological Society generously supported the endeavour and enabled prestigious plenary speakers to attend from far afield. Attendees delivered more than 40 talks, including 9 lightning reports and 5 plenary lectures. Presentations addressed questions at every level of spatial, temporal and evolutionary hierarchies. Enthusiasm abounded to convene the meeting again in future years, with an interest in rotating among European countries.

About to kick off CPEG2018 with a packed audience.

A session on biogeography led off the conference. Axelle Zacaï summarised results from a recent Palaeontology paper that inferred a regionally specific signal of Rapoport’s rule in Early Jurassic ammonites. Lewis Jones combined fossil and modern data to detect and predict poleward range shifts in zooxanthellate corals under global warming simulations. Also in the marine realm but across the whole Phanerozoic, Gwen Antell tested for ecological release and competitive exclusion in brachiopod and bivalve species. Drawing attention back to the present day, Oliver Wilson captivated the crowd with the natural history of the Araucaria forests endemic to southern Brazil. Rowan Whittle took a comparative approach with isocrinoid communities to demonstrate the delay of the Marine Mesozoic Revolution in the Southern Hemisphere. Nuss Raja tracked latitudinal ranges to infer evolution of temperature tolerances. Concluding the session, invited speaker Andrew Beckerman soliloquised on the power of matrix representations for a variety of ecological phenomena.

Andrew Beckerman delivers the first plenary talk of the conference.

Extinction garnered more attention than any other topic in the conference. Bryony Caswell opened the first of the sessions dedicated to research on extinction, investigating community trait changes during early Toarcian ocean anoxic events. Next, Sergei Petrovskii sobered the audience with mathematical models that predict phytoplankton net oxygen production to collapse as global warming shifts modern oceans beyond a critical threshold for sustainability. Returning to empirical work, Catherine Mascord outlined a project to combine observations of Precambrian bioturbation with laboratory experiments on living burrows. Amy Tims also synthesised disparate types of data: inferring missing fossil traits from a phylogeny to study extinction patterns in freshwater fish. Linking physiology to environmental stress, meanwhile, Veronica Piazza provided evidence from two sections before the Jurassic anoxic events where brachiopod and bivalve body sizes evolved differently. Continuing the extinction session the next day, Carl Reddin attempted to tease apart the relative contributions of several temperature-related stressors in marine extinctions. Mark Puttick developed a theoretical framework to test phylogenetic null models of mass extinction survivorship patterns. Finally, Frederik Saltre found evidence for a two-part driver of Australian megafauna extinctions: aridification compounded by human hunting.

The first three speakers on community ecology were challenged to concentrate their message into only 5 minutes. Emma Dunne questioned conventional hypotheses that aimed to explain Triassic distributions of three tetrapod clades. Also focusing on the Triassic, Vanessa Roden calculated species turnover and nestedness in reef assemblages. Elspeth Wallace cautioned interpretation of Morrison Formation fossil counts, noting the difficulty of separating or controlling the signal of taphonomic bias. In the second plenary talk, Karen Bacon reminded researchers of the merits of the plant fossil record, and discussed the nuances of palaeobotanical interpretation. On the second day, Isabel Fenton and Gregg Milligan modelled community dynamics from high temporal resolution Cenozoic microfossils. Malcolm Hart had prepared a talk about community composition in the time-averaged Oxford Clay formation but was unable to attend due to illness, and Kelsey Lorberau reviewed the use of metabarcoding plant fossils from lacustrine deposits. The final plenary speaker, Thomas Halliday, mapped the Paleocene mammal radiation in ecospace, morphospace and geographic space.

Thomas Halliday delivers the final plenary of the conference.

Shifting topic to biotic interactions, Pnina Cohen plied genetic analyses to trace the modern fire ant invasion to a small number of founding populations. Thomas Guillerme tested the hypothesis of escalation by comparing armouring and predator-prey body size ratios in fish. Fiona Pye and Emma Randle also discussed predator-prey dynamics in marine animals, while Joshua Tyler talked about the effect of competition and facilitation on bovid morphology. Andrew Clarke regaled attendees with a plenary talk to end the session, giving a review of physiological responses to the many environmental variables that vary with temperature.

Perhaps the most daunting gap that presenters attempted to cross at the conference was the separation between palaeontology and conservation biology. Nevertheless, Tracy Aze evaluated current criteria for conservation against the fossil record, and Jennifer Crees used historical ecology data to contextualise ecologists’ definition of ‘native’ species. Catalina Pimiento drew on Quaternary data to implicate coastal habitat loss as a primary driver of marine extinction. Pooling historical and modern Asian mammal occurrences, Samuel Turvey’s research struck a hopeful note that some species restricted to mountaintops may have a larger environmental tolerance, and hence lessened extinction risk under warming, than modern data alone would predict. Virginia Harvey compiled historic baseline estimates for Baltic fishery populations, which also differ from estimates derived without historic data. In contrast, Melanie Tietje’s fossil-calibrated model of amphibian extinction risk agreed well with assessments based on modern data. Jennifer Dunne delivered the penultimate plenary talk and awed the crowd with visually striking—and laboriously reconstructed—fossil food webs.

Wine and posters.

Delving into behavioural ecology, Kalyan Halder and Aaron Hunter pored over specimens to unravel the complexities of obligate monogamous oyster pairs and pseudoplanktonic megarafts, respectively. Three lightning talks on functional ecology, by George HarrisonNeil Adams, and Travis Park, all used cranial morphology to infer behaviour in vertebrate species.

Posters displayed results from nearly 20 projects, with topics as varied as morphology, feedbacks between biotic and abiotic systems, and diversity gradients, decimations and explosions. Authors drew data from a menagerie of microfossils, invertebrates and vertebrates (living, extinct and virtual). Celebrating the posters with libations of wine, attendees debated the tribulations of crossing disciplinary gaps. Ecologists noted palaeontologists’ fondness for acronyms and silhouette images of animals. In turn, palaeontologists pointed out the assumptions in ecology that have gone untested by omission of deep-time data. Beyond these superficial discords, however, the conference cultivated a spirit of camaraderie that will enable future collaborations to continue crossing the palaeontological-ecological gap.

Gwen Antell, University of Oxford

Congratulations to our student prize winners!

Best student talk: 

  • Winner: Virginia Harvey “Overfishing through time: Unlocking past fisheries data using molecular methods of species identification on ancient fish bones”
  • Commendations: Gwen Antell “Geographic distributions of benthic invertebrate species are diversity-dependent across the Phanerozoic” & Oliver Wilson “A tragedy in three acts: integrating ecological and palaeoecological techniques to understand the past and future of Brazil’s iconic Araucaria forests”

Best student lightning talk:

  • Winner: Neil Adams “Testing the sensitivity of dental microwear texture analysis as a dietary proxy: can it detect niche partitioning in sympatric species?”
  • Commendations: Emma Dunne “The Rise of Dinosaurs: Tetrapod diversity and climate during the Late Triassic” & Vanessa Roden “High beta diversity in a Triassic reef basin assemblage”

Best student poster:

  • Winner: Stella Felsinger “Morphological evidence for directional evolution and Post-Palaeozoic expansion in Polychaeta”
  • Commendations: Jed Atkinson “The Brobdingnag effect in the aftermath of the End-Triassic mass extinction event” & Adam Woodhouse “How have macroperforate planktonic foraminifer biogeographies varied through the Cenozoic?”

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