Ecology is the study and understanding of the relationships between living organisms and their environment. Paleoecology, the ecology of the past, is the study and understanding of relationships between organisms and their environment in the past. Because past organisms and environments cannot be observed directly, much paleoecological research is concerned with determining past occurrences, distributions, and abundances of organisms and reconstructing past populations, communities, landscapes, environments, and ecosystems using geological and biological evidence. Paleoecology can be studied in any period of Earth's history in which life was present. However, the major contributions of paleoecology to ecology are from the most recent geological interval, the Quaternary period, covering the last 2.8 million years. The emphasis of this article is on Quaternary paleoecol-ogy because of its strong links with contemporary ecology.

The research approaches and philosophy of paleoecol-ogy are outlined and different types of Quaternary paleoecological evidence and stages in a paleoecological study are summarized. Two major approaches to the interpretation of paleoecological data are discussed: (1) paleoecological reconstructions and (2) ecological paleoecology. Some of the major contributions that Quaternary paleoecology has made to ecology are summarized and future directions and potentialities are outlined.

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