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Frontiers of Biogeography

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The EarthLife Consortium API: an extensible, open-source service for accessing fossil data and taxonomies from multiple community paleodata resources


Paleobiologists and paleoecologists interested in studying biodiversity dynamics over broad spatial and temporal scales have built multiple community-curated data resources, each emphasizing a particular spatial domain, timescale, or taxonomic group(s). This multiplicity of data resources is understandable, given the enormous diversity of life across Earth's history, but creates a barrier to achieving a truly global understanding of the diversity and distribution of life across time. Here we present the Earth Life Consortium Application Programming Interface (ELC API), a lightweight data service designed to search and retrieve fossil occurrence and taxonomic information from across multiple paleobiological resources. Key endpoints include Occurrences (returns spatiotemporal locations of fossils for selected taxa), Locales (returns information about sites with fossil data), References (returns bibliographic information), and Taxonomy (returns names of subtaxa associated with selected taxa). Data objects are returned as JSON or CSV format. The ELC API supports tectonic-driven shifts in geographic position back to 580 Ma using services from Macrostrat and GPlates. The ELC API has been implemented first for the Paleobiology Database and Neotoma Paleoecology Database, with a test extension to the Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database. The ELC API is designed to be readily extensible to other paleobiological data resources, with all endpoints fully documented and following open-source standards (e.g., Swagger, OGC). The broader goal is to help build an interlinked and federated ecosystem of paleobiological and paleoenvironmental data resources, which together provide paleobiologists, macroecologists, biogeographers, and other interested scientists with full coverage of the diversity and distribution of life across time.

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