Biodiversity is much more than the catalogue of living life. It includes the record of past life bound up in the fossil record. Incorporating paleobiological data into investigations of biogeography, biodiversity, speciation and ecology radically expands the scope of our understanding about organic evolution and biological processes. Yet paleobiological data also introduce new complexities and uncertainties. For example, geochronology becomes an entirely new and complex dimension of data that must be managed. Additionally, geospatial, taxonomic, systematic and phylogenetic assertions become more challenging when dealing with paleobiological data. Additionally, paleobiologists rely on the integration of a multiplicity of data sources and this can only be accomplished with drastic improvements in the data exchange protocols. Biodiversity standards such as Darwin Core play a critical role in paleobiology, but there remain many aspects of the existing standards, in their current instantiation, that do not capture the breadth of information involved in paleobiology nor the peculiarities of fossil data. The Paleo interest group within TDWG is established to address the particular needs of paleobiological data by developing extensions and refinements to existing standards. A beneficial by-product of this effort is greater intellectual exchange and collaboration between paleobiologists and neontologists.

interest group
Image by Justyn Warner


Denné Reed
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
2201 Speedway Stop C3200
Austin, TX 78712, USA

Core members

Name  Affiliation
Mark D. Uhen George Mason University, Paleobiology Database
Ann Molineaux University of Texas at Austin
Edward Davis University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History
Michael McClennen Paleobiology Database
James Klaus University of Miami
Kathy Hollis National Museum of Natural History
Jessica Theodor University of Calgary
David Lazarus Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin


The motivation of this interest group is to broaden the application of existing standards, such as Darwin Core and ABCD, to accommodate the large community of paleobiologists and paleobiological data now coming online. The group also seeks to broaden the adoption of data standards and data management best practices within pale biology by improving documentation, providing examples and simplifying the use of data standards.

Paleobiological data span a broad range of taxonomic, geographic and temporal frames, and they are interconnected with many related domains of knowledge including climatology, geochemistry, stratigraphy, and geochronology. The Paleo interest group also seeks to network with similar efforts in related domains.

The group is particularly interested in developing formal ontologies and other Semantic Web technologies in order to allow the consistent applications of concepts and relationships in paleobiology. The goal is not to impose conceptual frameworks on the domain but rather to provide a well-conceived framework that members of the community can draw upon, modify or enhance if they choose. A related goal is to utilize the institutional framework of the TDWG as a mechanism for proposing, reviewing and ratifying these concepts (more) impartially and judiciously.

Becoming involved

All members of the TDWG and paleobiology community are invited to participate in the activities of the Paleo interest group by contributing ideas for new terms, comments on proposed terms, ideas for ontology development and conceptual frameworks for data sharing in paleobiology sensu lato.

The working group seeks input from domain specialists across the varied areas of paleobiology including, vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology, paleobotony, palynology, micropaleontology etc. The group also invites the participation of experts from cognate domains such as geochronology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, biogeography, systematics and paleoclimate.

The group further seeks the expertise of ontologists and information scientists in the activity of data modelling and developing formal ontologies.

The group meets online twice annually and those interested in participating should contact the interest group convener.


The Darwin Core standard currently incorporates terms specific to paleobiology, many of which were introduced by a previous effort, the DarwinCope project. DarwinCope generated useful extensions that allow Darwin Core to be applied by paleobiology data interchange projects.

The goal of the new interest group is to continue and extend the productive work of DarwinCope by further developing new ideas as the needs and capacities of paleobiology community mature. The past decade has seen burgeoning efforts at data integration and synthesis, many linked to NSF funded cyber-infrastructure initiatives such as Earth Cube. Darwin Core and the TDWG are a natural fit for the further development of data standards in paleobiology. This interest groups seeks to leverage the existing infrastructure of TDWG for the study of paleobiology along side extant biodiversity.

Similarly the ABCDEFG is a geosciences extension of the ABCD data standard. The Paleobiology Interest Group will work maintain compatibility between paleobiology initiatives in Darwin Core and ABCDEFG.