Paleobiology

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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]

  • Paleovirology examines the evolutionary history of viruses on paleobiological timescales.

Paleobiologists[edit]

Baron Nopcsa

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."[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 journals[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  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]

References[edit]

  • Robert B. Eckhardt (2000). Human Paleobiology. Cambridge Studies in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45160-4 and ISBN 978-0-521-45160-4. 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.
  • David Sepkoski. Rereading the Fossil Record: The Growth of Paleobiology as an Evolutionary Discipline (University of Chicago Press; 2012) 432 pages; A history since the mid-19th century, with a focus on the "revolutionary" era of the 1970s and early 1980s and the work of Stephen Jay Gould and David Raup.

External links[edit]