Brachiopods and bryozoans in an Ordovician limestone, southern Minnesota

Paleobiology (or palaeobiology) is an interdisciplinary field that combines the methods and findings found in both the earth sciences and the life sciences. Paleobiology is not to be confused with geobiology, which focuses more on the interactions between the biosphere and the physical Earth.

Paleobiological research uses biological field research of current biota and of fossils millions of years old to answer questions about the molecular evolution and the evolutionary history of life. In this scientific quest, macrofossils, microfossils and trace fossils are typically analyzed. However, the 21st-century biochemical analysis of DNA and RNA samples offers much promise, as does the biometric construction of phylogenetic trees.

An investigator in this field is known as a paleobiologist.

Important research areas


The founder or "father" of modern paleobiology was Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877 to 1933), a Hungarian scientist trained at the University of Vienna. He initially termed the discipline "paleophysiology."

However, credit for coining the word paleobiology itself should go to Professor Charles Schuchert. He proposed the term in 1904 so as to initiate "a broad new science" joining "traditional paleontology with the evidence and insights of geology and isotopic chemistry."

On the other hand, Charles Doolittle Walcott, a Smithsonian adventurer, has been cited as the "founder of Precambrian paleobiology." Although best known as the discoverer of the mid-Cambrian Burgess shale animal fossils, in 1883 this American curator found the "first Precambrian fossil cells known to science" – a stromatolite reef then known as Cryptozoon algae. In 1899 he discovered the first acritarch fossil cells, a Precambrian algal phytoplankton he named Chuaria. Lastly, in 1914, Walcott reported "minute cells and chains of cell-like bodies" belonging to Precambrian purple bacteria.

Later 20th-century paleobiologists have also figured prominently in finding Archaean and Proterozoic eon microfossils: In 1954, Stanley A. Tyler and Elso S. Barghoorn described 2.1 billion-year-old cyanobacteria and fungi-like microflora at their Gunflint Chert fossil site. Eleven years later, Barghoorn and J. William Schopf reported finely-preserved Precambrian microflora at their Bitter Springs site of the Amadeus Basin, Central Australia.

In 1993, Schopf discovered O2-producing blue-green bacteria at his 3.5 billion-year-old Apex Chert site in Pilbara Craton, Marble Bar, in the northwestern part of Western Australia. So paleobiologists were at last homing in on the origins of the Precambrian "Oxygen catastrophe."

During the early part of the 21st-century, two paleobiologists Anjali Goswami and Thomas Halliday, studied the evolution of mammaliaforms during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras (between 299 million to 12,000 years ago). Additionally, they uncovered and studied the morphological disparity and rapid evolutionary rates of living organisms near the end and in the aftermath of the Cretaceous mass extinction (145 million to 66 million years ago).

Paleobiologic journals

Paleobiology in the general press

Books written for the general public on this topic include the following:

  • The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us written by Steve Brusatte
  • Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth's Extinct Worlds written by Thomas Halliday
  • Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record – 22 April 2020 by Michael J. Benton (Author), David A. T. Harper (Author)

See also


  1. ^ Schuchert is cited on page 170 of Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils (Princeton: Princeton University Press) by J. William Schopf (1999). ISBN 0-691-00230-4.
  2. ^ Walcott's contributions are described by J. William Schopf (1999) on pages 23 to 31. Another good source is E. L. Yochelson (1997), Charles Doolittle Walcott: Paleontologist (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press).
  3. ^ The paleobiologic discoveries of Tyler, Barghoorn and Schopf are related on pages 35 to 70 of Schopf (1999).
  4. ^ The Apex chert microflora is related by Schopf (1999) himself on pages 71 to 100.
  5. ^ Halliday, Thomas (April 8, 2013). "Testing the inhibitory cascade model in Mesozoic and Cenozoic mammaliaforms". BMC Ecology and Evolution. 13 (79): 79. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-79. PMC 3626779. PMID 23565593.
  6. ^ Halliday, Thomas (March 28, 2016). "Eutherian morphological disparity across the end-Cretaceous mass extinction". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 118 (1): 152–168. doi:10.1111/bij.12731 – via Oxford Academic.
  7. ^ Halliday, Thomas (June 29, 2016). "Eutherians experienced elevated evolutionary rates in the immediate aftermath of the Cretaceous–Palaeogene mass extinction". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 283 (1833). doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.3026. PMC 4936024. PMID 27358361.
  8. ^ Brusatte, Steve (2022). The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us (1st ed.). United States: Mariner Books. ISBN 978-0062951519.
  9. ^ Halliday, Thomas (2022). Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth's Extinct Worlds (1st ed.). United States: Random House. ISBN 978-0593132883.

External links

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