Paleontology is the study of ancient or prehistoric life on earth. Its main goal is to investigate the evolution of plant and animal species as well as the earth's ancient ecosystems and climate as a whole. Although concerned with life, paleontology is actually a branch of geology; the study of physical nature.
Paleontology uses fossils of organisms to speculate the conditions on earth during their lifetime. The changes in particular species of organisms also helps to answer questions concerning evolution. Since fossils are embedded in rock formations of various types, paleontology relies on geology, and so the two are closely related. By looking at fossils, their composition, placement and the surrounding preserved environment, paleontologists can glean the climate and its changes during a particular period.
As paleontology is a sub science of geology there are similarly a number of specialty fields that fall under the branch of paleontology. These subgroups include micropaleontology, paleobotny and paleozoology. Micropaleontology refers to the study of fossilized microorganisms such as single celled creatures or spores and pollen from plant life. Paleobotny is concerned with fossilized plant life and paleozoology is concerned with animal fossils such as dinosaurs and primitive human beings.
In addition to academic and scientific importance, paleontology is useful in the mining industry. Because it is critical to determine the age of geological formations for a variety of reasons, paleontology comes in handy because of its systematic approach to determining the age of fossils. Looking at the fossils found in rock a paleontologist can quickly determine the age of the rock which is an easier process than determining the age of rock solely by its physical properties.
Although it is not commonly thought of as a conservation science, paleontology is invaluable to our understanding of the environment and climate cycles that naturally exist on earth which contributes to our understanding of where we as humans fit into our current environmental crisis. More importantly as the earth has gone through various cycles of warming and cooling, paleontology can give us insight as to how organisms respond; whether they adapt or perish. Although many people are quick to blame human beings for the environmental problems that we are experiencing today, paleontology examines similar events on our planet long before we had the chance to change it. This can give us invaluable insight to possible solutions in preventing or slowing further damage.