Website Review: PaleoDB

Full Name: The Paleobiology Database


Content: Global, collection-based occurrence and taxonomic data for marine and terrestrial animals and plants of any geological age, as well as web-based software for statistical analysis of the data

paleobiodb1entry page

Authorship: John Alroy, project coordinator (University of California, Santa Barbara); individual international contributors

Host/Maintenance: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara; continuously updated by members, i.e., scholars in good standing

Permanence/Archiving: Mirrored at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison; funded primarily by the US National Science Foundation

paleobiodb2search result example for “Sirenia” (taxon) and “Belgium” (country)

Licensing: Usage and citation guidelines are clearly explained on the FAQ page; no mention on actual database pages though

Usefulness: It serves as a reference tool for paleobiological specimens worldwide, bringing together information that is otherwise only published in a very dispersed and disorganized manner; over 80,000 “occurrences” are already in the system; more than a listing, it is a very interactive database allowing for sophisticated analysis according to many criteria

paleobiodb3click-through of search example “Sirenia” + “Belgium”: 1st collection, “List of taxa” tab

Ease of Use: The system looks easy enough to use even for an outsider such as myself; I was able to navigate and find relevant results pretty easily; one little quibble: it would be nice if search result pages would indicate what the search criteria were

Appeal: The clean, attractive design underscores the academic rigor underlying the site

Accessibility: “Paleobiology” yields only a 6th-place result in Google but adding the term “database” puts in the no. 1 spot; a Google search for “Halitherium schinzii” leads to this database in 2nd place, adding “Belgium” has the below example page show up as no. 3

paleobiodb4further click-through of search example “Sirenia” + “Belgium” 1st collection: species, “Basic info” tab

Credibility: A slew of academic and research institutions from around the world stand behind the database, making it abundantly clear that this is a serious, authoritative project

Reuse: Authority and opinion data of individual species can be downloaded in comma- or tab-delimited format; maps are downloadable in several formats; there is even a “Download” tab at the top of the page design

paleobiodb5further click-through of search example “Sirenia” + “Belgium” 1st collection: species, “Map” tab

Unfortunately, access to the data is not always open, since some of it is unpublished or work in progress. The site states:

“We encourage making all contributed data publicly accessible. However, all faunal and floral data sets entered into our system may be protected so that they are not viewable either by any other users (your private data) or by anyone outside of your research group (your group data). Protection is limited for up to two years after date of entry for previously published data, and up to five years for unpublished data. … Protected data cannot be accessed by any of our scripts or in any other way unless the appropriate password is provided. The only exceptions are the reference search and taxonomy scripts, …”

This is an example of what may at times be an unavoidable compromise for systems like PaleoDB which offer a place for research in progress. This may on the other hand promote keeping research data needlessly “private”: it’s a tough balance between encouraging sharing materials as soon as possible and giving scholars some peace of mind.

paleobiodb6example of one of the analytical tools: paleographic map of the taxon Sirenia during the Oligocene time interval

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