A central goal of paleobiology is to understand the guiding principles shaping life on Earth. This includes understanding the causes and consequences of mass extinctions, from which lessons can be applied to mitigating the current biodiversity crisis. The fossil record thus has a crucial role to play in predicting and remediating the effects of ongoing defaunation and global change.
Mass extinctions are commonly studied in terms of the fall of major taxonomic groups (i.e., rates of species extinction). By contrast, little attention has been paid to the effects of mass extinction on the organization of biota in space (‘biogeography’), even though modern ecosystems show strong biogeographic changes in response to ecological stress. My research group is tackling this area in a variety of different ways. Most importantly, using the fossil record to interpret present-day changes in biogeographic patterns requires that we understand how faithfully the compositions of living communities, and the existing distributions of species, can be preserved in the rock record (e.g., Hull, Darroch & Erwin, 2015 in Nature). My group is investigating these processes both through developing new, computer-driven simulation techniques, and by performing experiments (‘live-dead studies’) in modern marine environments. We also study the spatial responses of biota to mass extinctions in the field, and at a variety of spatial scales - most notable in Anticosti Island, Quebec.