Paleontology in France: 200 years in the footsteps of Cuvier and Lamarck

Abstract : Due to its richness in fossil localities and Fossil-Lagerstätten, France played a major role in the 18th and 19th centuries in establishing paleontology and biostratigraphy as scientific disciplines. The French naturalist and zoologist Cuvier (1769-1832) established the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology, and proposed the concept of 'catastrophism' in geology. The naturalist Lamarck (1744-1829) is considered the founder of invertebrate paleontology and biostratigraphy and an early pioneer in the studies of evolution, developing the idea of 'transformism' and creating the word 'fossil', while his successor Blainville (1777-1850) was the first to use the word 'paleontology'. Based on this rich heritage, numerous French scientists strengthened paleontology as an important discipline during the 19th and 20th centuries. Paleontology was present at the universities of most major French cities, as documented by the rich collections in over 50 natural history museums and university collections. The most significant paleontological collection is that housed in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) at Paris that currently hosts the largest research unit in paleontology of France with over 100 scientists, curators and technicians. The second largest collection (and the largest in terms of invertebrate fossils) is housed at the University of Lyon1, where the most important university paleontology research team is present. About 250 professional paleontologists are currently working in research units that are mostly affiliated to the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in public or private museums, or in the numerous natural parcs. A significant generation change took place in the early 2000s, with the retirement of the paleontologists recruited in the 1960s and 1970s, that were often specialized in alpha-taxonomy and stratigraphy, and the arrival of a young generation of scientists that attempts to answer more 'modern' questions, such as global (climate) change, biodiversity, or evolution. This new generation of paleontologists faces modified funding schemes with project-based supporting structures in a more and more competitive environment. In the present paper we attempt to summarize the current situation of paleontology as a discipline in the very complex academic and scientific context of France. After a short overview on the history of French paleontology in the last centuries, a synopsis on institutions and funding agencies is presented briefly. The major research departments and their research themes are then described, together with the most important collections, the paleontological associations, journals, and databases, etc. Paleontological training possibilities and job opportunities, in particular in academia, are next documented, concluding with a summary of the prospects of the discipline.
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Palaeontologia Electronica, Coquina Press, 2012, 15 (1), pp.2E
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Thomas Servais, Pierre-Olivier Antoine, Taniel Danelian, Bertrand Lefebvre, Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud. Paleontology in France: 200 years in the footsteps of Cuvier and Lamarck. Palaeontologia Electronica, Coquina Press, 2012, 15 (1), pp.2E. 〈hal-00690034〉

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