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Despite what their names might suggest, ecology and palaeoecology have progressed historically as well separated disciplines. This unfortunate disjunction is analyzed here from a theoretical point of view. Among the factors that have facilitated the separation are: 1) the past-present dissociation characteristic of the human mind, 2) the diversity of fields of provenance of palaeoecologists, 3) the contrasting nature of the evidence and associated methodological differences, and 4) misunderstandings caused by the use of prefix palaeo-. The principle of uniformitarianism emphasizes that past, present and future are not discrete units but a time continuum through which species and communities flow, change and evolve; and that ecology and palaeoecology are only different approaches with a common objective, which is the ecological understanding of the biosphere. Therefore, a terminological clarification is needed. Ecology in a broad sense, includes inferences about the past (palaeoecology), present studies (neoecology or contemporary ecology) and future projections (predictive ecology). Palaeoecology is thus a means by which ecology studies the past using proxies. Other disciplines beginning with the prefix palaeo- (notably palaeoclimatology and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction) are not necessarily ecological. It is recommended that ecologists and palaeoecologists develop joint projects, and that palaeoecologists increase their participation in ecological journals, books and meetings. These collaborations will demonstrate that a palaeoecologist is not simply a palaeoscientist whose data may be of interest for ecology but is primarily an ecologist working on another time scale, with different methods.