Paper No. 310-2
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM
DIGITIZING FOSSILS TO ENHANCE MACROEVOLUTIONARY RESEARCH: THE PALEONICHES AND CRETACEOUS WORLD THEMATIC COLLECTION NETWORKS
New opportunities to digitize museum collections have greatly facilitated research in macroevolution. Here we focus on some of the research applications of digitization efforts using collections from the University of Kansas and partners in two National Science Foundation Thematic Collections Network (TCN) grants, the Paleoniches and the Cretaceous World. We elaborate on our databasing, georeferencing and imaging workflows, the essential steps that underpin any digitization effort. We then discuss how to use these data in a variety of macroevolutionary studies that employ Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM). As part of the Paleoniches TCN, GIS and ENM were used to examine how the substantial climate changes during the Neogene interval influenced species distributions. The role that niche breadth, as opposed to geographic range size, played in determining species survival and extinction, and the extent to which species niches evolved or displayed stasis, was also considered. An especial focus was the rich fossil record of mollusks from the western Atlantic. Species ranges were found to have shifted substantially, yet in the face of these changes species niches were stable. Further, species niches played a more muted role in determining survival than the geographic range a species occupied. ENM also makes it possible to project into the future, to predict the fate of extant mollusk species currently in the western Atlantic, in light of climatic warming anticipated through 2100. The predicted impact on species ranges and survival varies from moderate extinction to complete decimation, depending on the degree of climate change. Given the present path humans are on, this augurs poorly for the fate of numerous human food sources, key pillars of ocean food chains, and perhaps our very existence. The Cretaceous World will extend the applications of ENM to a time period with a climate similar to the one our planet may soon experience to determine if species packing in communities differs during times of profound warmth, and to consider the extent of niche conservatism at episodes of phylogenetic divergence.