Bridging the two fossil records: Paleontology’s “big data” future resides in museum collections
Warren D. Allmon, Gregory P. Dietl, Jonathan R. Hendricks, Robert M. Ross, "Bridging the two fossil records: Paleontology’s “big data” future resides in museum collections", Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making, Gary D. Rosenberg, Renee M. Clary
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There are two fossil records: the physical fossil record, which consists of specimens, and the abstracted fossil record, which is made up of data derived from those specimens. Museum collections are the conduit between these two fossil records. Over the past several decades, the abstracted fossil record has provided many important insights about the major features of life’s history, but it has relied mostly on limited types of data (primarily taxonomic occurrence data) derived from ultimately finite literature sources. In contrast, specimen collections and modern tools for digitizing information about them present an opportunity to transform paleobiology into a “big data” science. Digitally capturing non-traditional (e.g., paleoecological, taphonomic, geochemical, and morphological) data from millions of specimens in museum collections and then integrating them with other unique big data resources has the potential to lead to the most important paleontological discoveries of the twenty-first century.