2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 270-4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


ADRAIN, Jonathan M., Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Iowa, 115 Trowbridge Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 and KARIM, Talia S., University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, University of Colorado, 265 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, jonathan-adrain@uiowa.edu

Paleontological systematics has traditionally been a paper-based science in which species have been characterized primarily via extended written descriptions. Preparing images for publication was a lengthy and time-consuming mechanical process and most journals sought to minimize the number published due to the high costs of producing photographic plates. Similarly, while digital library catalogs have existed for decades, literature research continued to be a manual process involving reading individual papers and tracking down other references, often via physical interlibrary loan. One result is that most trilobite species, for example, are known from a few illustrated specimens (often only a single specimen) of only one or two sclerite types (chiefly cranidia) making their interpretation from historical published images largely impossible.

The rapid growth of digital imaging technology, including cameras, macro lenses, and focusing rails, and a decline in their cost has fueled a radical shift in systematic data gathering and presentation, making it possible to generate and publish large volumes of exceptionally high quality images with modest effort. Researching systematic literature has been virtually trivialized by digitization of all relevant publications. Our research group has developed a =searchable collection of all published trilobite papers, using existing digitization initiatives (e.g., Biodiversity Heritage Library) and digitizing ourselves where necessary. Search technologies built into standard desktop operating systems permit the entire literature library to be searched for terms of interest (e.g., genus name) in less than a second, with a set of all papers containing the term returned as pdf files. Utilizing these data, we have recognized misidentified taxa, unknown morphological details, and a vast diversity of unrecorded taxa. As a result, fossil taxa may now be documented in incredible detail, and their history of investigation summarized virtually on demand. Many journals are now willing to publish greatly expanded imaging, limited only by the effort and judgment of the investigator. While these changes offer transformative advances in the speed, depth, and quality with which fossil species can be documented, they have yet to be widely adopted by systematists.