Date and Time
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN
Biologists studying extant organisms have a huge battery of methods at their disposal. Morphology can be observed and dissected in great detail, physiology and biochemistry can be made the subject of experiment, behaviour can be observed, and heritable changes within populations can be studied from generation to generation. Information is available at tremendously high temporal resolution (the ‘ecological’ time scale). But life has a history spanning something in the region of 3.5 billion years, with Metazoa originating at least 540 million years ago. The extant biota is just one time slice of this history. However great our understanding of living animals, we could never have predicted the existence of dinosaurs from looking at today’s birds and reptiles, or giant 5m long sea ‘scorpions’ (eurypterids) from studying spiders and mites. Fossils provide us with less detailed morphological and palaeobiogeographical information, but over vastly longer (geological) time scales.
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