Over the past decade, the study of organismal or systematic paleobiology has been progressing into a new age of digital paleobiology, in which advanced instrumentation is utilized for primary data collection and analyses. Having been progressing throughout this field of study, advanced instruments—commonly electron- and ion- microbeam equipment—have been employed for numerous fossils over the entire range of geologic
time, from microfossils to macrofossils and from the Archean (beginning at 3800 Ma) to the Cenozoic (ending at the recent). These techniques, predominantly used for geochemical, morphological, and ultra-/micro-structural analyses, have unlocked an incredible amount of detail contributing to our understanding of fossil organisms, their modes of life, and their biological affinities. But further, as these techniques continue to grow and become popularized in various fields of paleobiological study, they are certain to significantly progress our comprehension and knowledge of the evolution of life through time.
While the chapters presented in this dissertation may not have a unifying theme in terms of a distinct fossil organism or specific time in Earth’s history, furthering the use of electron- and ion- microbeam instrumentation and expanding the paleo-genres to which digital paleobiological approaches may be applied encompasses the fundamental intention of my research. Two of the chapters reported here focus on the geochemical,
ultrastructural, and microstructural investigation of organic-walled microfossils, or
acritarchs, from the Paleoproterozoic (2500–1600 Ma) and Mesoproterozoic (1600–1000 Ma), using a range of advanced instrumentation including field emission scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, laser Raman spectroscopy, electron microprobe, secondary ion mass spectroscopy, and focused ion beam electron
microscopy. Moving into the Neoproterozoic (1000–542 Ma), the third primary research chapter utilizes field emission scanning electron microscopy for high-resolution, high magnification imaging and quantitative evaluation of an entire fossil assemblage—from acritarchs and algal fossils to the earliest metazoan embryos. This study was conducted in an effort to examine and describe the phosphatization taphonomic window of the Doushantuo Formation of South China, which is a prime example of exceptional preservation. Finally, the fourth primary research chapter reported here uses field
emission scanning electron microscopy and environmental scanning electron microscopy
in a field of paleobiology in which advanced instrumentation has been highly underutilized – predatory-prey interactions. This research examines microstructural characteristics of predatory drill holes in both modern and fossil organisms in an attempt to mitigate the identification of predation traces in the fossil record.