Geology and Geological Engineering

Dr. Christina Belanger
Paleoecology: Environmental Change and Biotic Responses
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Dr. Christina Belanger

Ph.D. (2011), University of Chicago
Assistant Professor
Geology and Geological Engineering
South Dakota School of Mines
Rapid City, SD 57701
phone 605-394-4074

Research synopsis

Identifying how organisms respond, why they respond, and to which environmental factors they are primarily responding is integral to understanding how future climate change will affect the modern biota as well as to inform efforts to sustain biodiversity and economically important fisheries.

Shelled organisms, such as molluscs and foraminifera, are abundant and well-preserved in the fossil record and in museum collections of modern specimens. These preserved assemblages allow longer-term perspectives on biotic response and climate change - millennia to millions of years - than is possible in exclusively present-day ecological studies. The fossil record also allows trends in these natural communities to be analyzed before, during, and after changes in climate without needing to wait for the events to occur in real time.

  • Paleoenvironmental analyses using geochemical and faunal proxies
    Benthic foraminifera from marine sedimentary records can be used to reconstruct past oceanographic properties including temperature, productivity, and oxygenation. We employ two main methods: geochemical analyses of their carbonate shells (stable isotope and trace element) and faunal assemblage analyses to understand how oceanographic systems change over time and to provide environmental records against which to study biological responses to those climate changes.

  • Ecological and Physiological Responses to Environmental Change
    To examine community-level responses, we look at changes in the relative abundances of molluscan taxa during climate events like the Early Miocene warming. Physiological, responses can be measured in organisms like bivalves, which record their rate of growth in bands in their shells much like tree rings. We can then ask whether changes in body size at the population level is determined by the age at death or by slower growth over the organism?s life time.

  • Influence of Oceanographic Factors on Marine Invertebrate Biogeography
    Understanding the environmental factors that contribute to the modern occurrences of species across space can help us understand the biogeographical shifts that occur over time due to warming or cooling of global climates. We can also investigate the factors that determine why some areas of the world have high biodiversity while others have very little.

contact: Dept. of Geology and Geological Engineering, 501 E. Saint Joseph St., SDSMT, Rapid City, SD 57701
phone: (605)394-4074 / fax: (605)394-6703 / email: