May 3, 2012

Invertebrate Paleontology Fossils to be Focus of New Digitization Grant

Museum collections hold millions of fossils representing information on the distribution of species over space and immense spans of time. They provide large amounts of data useful for studying what causes species to migrate, go extinct, or evolve.

These collections are of great relevance, scientists say, for considering how global change has and will continue to affect life on this planet. However, to reach their scientific potential, the data need to be available online and in a format that facilitates quantitative biogeographic analyses.

A new program from the National Science Foundation, Advancing the Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC), has awarded a team led by a University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute researcher a $600,000 award to digitize invertebrate fossil collections, including those at KU. The grant will be led by Bruce Lieberman, curator of invertebrate paleontology, as well as Una Farrell, collection manager, and James Beach, director of the informatics program of the Biodiversity Institute.

 

 

For this project, scientists will capture information in electronic form about the age and precise location of fossil specimens from several important paleontological collections. They will develop improved computer software to integrate paleontological specimens with modern specimen data and digitize nearly 450,000 specimens in 900 species from museums throughout the United States. The project will focus on three different time periods in the history of life spanning the past 500 million years.

Online digital atlases will be created, illustrating and describing these fossils and providing maps showing where they can be found. In addition, a handheld device "app" will be developed to use these atlases in the field. The online and portable device digital atlases will educate amateur paleontologists and K-12 students about fossils.

This grant for the fossil collections is the first time KU has taken the lead on a Thematic Collections Network project administered through the ADBC program.  However, Craig Freeman, curator of botany and senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey and Andrew Short, curator of entomology and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology have served as principal investigators (PIs) on two other such projects through the ABDC program and Caroline Chaboo, curator of entomology and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has served as a participant.  This makes a total of three grants to KU researchers in the first two years of the ADBC program.

For more information about this year’s grant awardees and the National Science Foundation program, visit the NSF news site.