For the journal, see Paleobiology (journal).

Brachiopods and bryozoans in an Ordovician limestone, southern Minnesota.

Paleobiology (sometimes spelled palaeobiology) is a growing and comparatively new discipline which combines the methods and findings of the natural science biology with the methods and findings of the earth science paleontology. It is occasionally referred to as "geobiology."

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 Edit

Paleobiologists Edit


Baron Nopcsa

The founder or "father" of modern paleobiology is said to be Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877 to 1933), a turn-of-the-century Balkan scientist. He is also known as Baron Nopcsa, Ferenc Nopcsa, and Franz Nopcsa von Felsö-Szilvás. 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."[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

Finally, 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."[4]

Paleobiologic journalsEdit


  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.

See also Edit


  • Matthew T. Carrano, Timothy Gaudin, Richard Blob, and John Wible, eds. (2006). Amniote Paleobiology: Perspectives on the Evolution of Mammals, Birds and Reptiles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226094782 and ISBN 978-0226094786. This new book describes paleobiological research into land vertebrates of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.
  • Robert B. Eckhardt (2000). Human Paleobiology. Cambridge Studies in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521451604 and ISBN 9780521451604. This book connects paleoanthropology and archeology to the field of paleobiology.
  • Douglas H. Erwin (2006). Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00524-9. An investigation by a paleobiologist into the many theories as to what happened during the catastrophic Permian-Triassic transition.
  • Brian Keith Hall and Wendy M. Olson, eds. (2003). Keywords and Concepts in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674009045 and ISBN 9780674009042.
  • Donald R. Prothero (2004). Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0073661708 and ISBN 978-007366-1704. An acclaimed book for the novice fossil-hunter and young adults.
  • J. William Schopf (2001). Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691088640. The use of biochemical and ultramicroscopic analysis to analyze microfossils of bacteria and archaea.
  • Bernard Ziegler and R. O. Muir (1983). Introduction to Palaeobiology. Chichester, England: E. Horwood. ISBN 0470275529 and ISBN 9780470275528. A classic, British introductory textbook.

External linksEdit

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