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Automatic taxonomic identification based on the Fossil Image Dataset (>415,000 images) and deep convolutional neural networks


Liu, Xiaokang et al. (2022), Automatic taxonomic identification based on the Fossil Image Dataset (>415,000 images) and deep convolutional neural networks, Dryad, Dataset,


The rapid and accurate taxonomic identification of fossils is of great significance in paleontology, biostratigraphy, and other fields. However, taxonomic identification is often labor-intensive and tedious, and the requisition of extensive prior knowledge about a taxonomic group also requires long-term training. Moreover, identification results are often inconsistent across researchers and communities. Accordingly, in this study, we used deep learning to support taxonomic identification. We used web crawlers to collect the Fossil Image Dataset (FID) via the Internet, obtaining 415,339 images belonging to 50 fossil clades. Then we trained three powerful convolutional neural networks on a high-performance workstation. The Inception ResNet v2 architecture achieved an average accuracy of 0.90 in the test dataset when transfer learning was applied. The clades of microfossils and vertebrate fossils exhibited the highest identification accuracies of 0.95 and 0.90, respectively. In contrast, clades of sponges, bryozoans, and trace fossils with various morphologies or with few samples in the dataset exhibited a performance below 0.80. Visual explanation methods further highlighted the discrepancies among different fossil clades and suggested similarities between the identifications made by machine classifiers and taxonomists. Collecting large paleontological datasets from various sources, such as the literature, digitization of dark data, citizen-science data, and public data from the Internet may further enhance deep learning methods and their adoption. Such developments will also possibly lead to image-based systematic taxonomy to be replaced by machine-aided classification in the future. Pioneering studies can include microfossils and some invertebrate fossils. To contribute to this development, we deployed our model on a server for public access at


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 41821001

Chinese Academy of Sciences, Award: XDB26000000