Paleontology at University of Mainz

The major purpose of paleontology is to reconstruct the evolution of life on Earth. Paleontology involves the study of evolutionary mechanisms and the strategies employed by organisms to survive in a constantly changing environment, to occupy new habitats and to produce fertile offspring. Fossils, the remains of once living organisms, together with the sediments in which they were preserved, can provide a means of reconstructing past ecosystems, the distribution of land/sea areas, and the changing positions of the continents through time. They can also be used to determine past weather extremes and paleoclimate dynamics.

Ultimately, paleontology enables scientists to understand life, because it is paleontology that adds the concept of time to our existing biological knowledge. Understanding how faunal communities change through time, either in response to natural environmental or climatic fluctuations, can help us to predict the future consequences of global climate change. No other scientific discipline can do this!

Since its reorganization in September 2006, the principal focus of the Paleontology working group at Mainz is on the applied and analytical aspects of paleontology. Within this remit, the working group undertakes research associated with a number of other disciplines, for example, archeology, anthropology, climatology, sedimentology, geochemistry and modeling. The research center, concentrates primarily on the environmental and climatic history of the Quaternary Period (the last 2.6 million years). However, the research team also works on older periods of Earth history, such as, the Tertiary (65.5 to 2.6 million years ago, Ma), the Cretaceous (145.5 to 65.5 Ma), the Jurassic (199.6 to 145.5 Ma) and the Devonian (416.0 to 359.2 Ma).

Extensive collaboration with neighboring disciplines, both in terms of research and teaching, ensures the delivery of a comprehensive, diverse and interdisciplinary study program. Furthermore, a significant amount practical education is given, through laboratory and field based teaching, which combines traditional aspects of paleontology (e.g., the knowledge of anatomical and skeletal morphology) with more modern and progressive aspects (e.g., gaining experience with modern analytical equipment, in particular, for determining stable isotope and trace/minor element values from biological hard parts).

Students wishing to specialize in paleontology at Mainz will obtain a broad subject knowledge that will prepare them for a variety of jobs, for example, in the petroleum exploration industry, environmental protection/conservation, environmental monitoring, material sciences, curatorial museum work, or jobs with the geological survey. A paleontological education at Mainz is also excellent preparation for a career in academic science, and after being awarded a degree (Diploma or Master of Science, M.Sc.), students may be interested in perusing their doctoral dissertation in paleontology.