by Ronny Maik Leder
Every amateur and professional paleontologist is familiar with these two problems: (1) inadequate access to literature with morphological descriptions and images of holotype fossil specimens; and (2) inadequate access to collections bearing comparison samples. These are the limiting factors in working with — and especially in identifying — fossils. It often takes hours or days to find the correct literature and citations, and sometimes even longer to get the necessary permits to investigate university or museum collections. For amateurs, it is practically impossible to get permits because the regulations are quite strict and frequently limited to the academic community. This situation seems to be especially unfair when you look at all of the work that amateurs have done in the past and for the development of the field of paleontology in general. Just consider how many of the most iconic fossils in natural history museums stem from the private collections of amateurs. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel — a change is about to come that will simplify the extremely valuable work and support of amateurs. The solution is the Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) database the National Resource for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) funded by the National Science Foundation.
Through ADBC and iDigBio, data and images for millions of biological specimens are being made available in electronic format — not just for the academic research community, but for the general public and, of course, for amateurs and private collectors. While most of the content comprises recent biological specimens, a sizable section is dedicated to fossils and that section is growing every day. With the possibility of using the iDigBio database, amateur paleontologists will get free access to the encyclopedia of life and break the seals to an almanac of academic knowledge that was, until now, locked away from the general public. Of course, the immense biological and paleontological collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History are available, but there is much more to come.
The FOSSIL Project, a partner project with the iDigBio initiative, is supporting the growth of the database by providing more data on fossil objects, including images and all the background information. Furthermore, FOSSIL is encouraging amateurs, collectors, and educators to become a partner in developing the iDigBio database. On the new myFOSSIL website, we offer tips and tutorials to train folks on how to take good field notes and document their discoveries, and how to take high-quality images of their fossil collections in such a way that they fulfill the quality requirements for a professional database. At myFOSSIL, users are shown how to upload their images and data to the website, so that together we can pave the road for a fruitful collaboration between the amateur and the professional sectors. In this way, everybody benefits … just how it should be!
Explore the iDigBio portal here