A “Natural History of Data”: The Rise of Taxic Paleobiology

David Sepkoski

in Rereading the Fossil Record

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780226748559
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226748580 | DOI:
A “Natural History of Data”: The Rise of Taxic Paleobiology

Show Summary Details


This chapter explores the taxic approach as a dominant perspective in paleobiology, and its contribution to the solidification of what came to be known as the Chicago School of analytical paleontology. It also represented the culmination of a long tradition in paleobiology—of drawing statistical interpretations of patterns in the history of life from an otherwise imperfect fossil record. This approach, in many ways, represents the paleobiological tradition in the second half of the twentieth century. The term “taxic paleontology” is defined as follows: “Paleontologists have always had the option of looking at the fossil record, in either or both of two ways—first, distributions in space and time of discrete taxa, which differ among themselves to a greater or lesser extent, and second, distributions in space and time of different states of morphological character assumed to be evolving.” Punctuated equilibria and the MBL model helped prepare the path for a taxic view. In each case, species are considered to be discrete entities with clearly demarcated births and deaths. This was not, however, the essence of taxic paleobiology. The taxic approach is also implicitly an ecological view, since it understands evolution to consist “essentially of the origin, maintenance, and degradation of diversity”. This view is inspired by the mathematical modeling approach of the MacArthur-Wilson insular model of biogeography. However, it developed its own uniquely paleobiological perspective with the advent of massive fossil databases.

Keywords: natural history; taxic paleobiology; MBL model; fossil record; discrete taxa; punctuated equilibria; space and time distribution; biogeography; mathematical modeling; evolution; evolution

Chapter.  17667 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Palaeontology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.