COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED DATA REPOSITORIES IN PALEOECOLOGY AND PALEOCLIMATOLOGY: THE ‘MIDDLE TAIL’ BETWEEN GEOSCIENTIFIC USERS AND GEOINFORMATICS
Community-supported data repositories (CSDRs) have emerged in response to this need. Many paleobiological CSDRs were begun decades ago by individual researchers or small teams (e.g. Jack Sepkoski, CLIMAP, COHMAP) to address particular questions (e.g. the history of biodiversity on Earth, reconstructing past climatic changes) and have matured into multi-user and multi-purpose data repositories governed by teams of geoscientists and informaticists (e.g. Neotoma Paleoecology Database, the Paleobiology Database). CSDRs facilitate large-scale research by providing open-access and curated data that employ community-supported metadata and data standards. CSDRs also serve as a ‘middle tail’ or boundary organization between information scientists and individual geoscientists, passing use cases and research priorities in one direction, best practices and common protocols in the other.
Because paleoecological expertise is highly decentralized and distributed across proxy types, taxonomic groups, time periods, and regions, an array of paleobiological and paleoclimatic CSDRs has arisen, e.g. the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, Paleobiology Database, International Tree Ring Database, NOAA NCEI for Paleoclimatology, Morphobank, iDigPaleo, and Integrated Earth Data Alliance. Recently, these groups have organized into a Paleobiology Data Consortium dedicated to improving interoperability and sharing best practices and protocols.
The Neotoma Paleoecology Database offers one model of a CSDR, designed to facilitate research into ecological and evolutionary dynamics during recent past global change. Neotoma data can be searched, viewed, and returned to users through multiple interactive and programmatic interfaces, designed to span a range of user preferences. Neotoma is governed by geoscientists via multiple virtual constituent data working groups and provides community engagement through training workshops for data contributors, stewards, and users.