Illinois State Museum Receives National Science Foundation Grant to Develop Neotoma Paleoecology Database

The Illinois State Museum and Pennsylvania State University recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant from the Geoinformatics Program to develop the “Neotoma Paleoecology Database.” This database includes fossil data for the past 5 million years. It provides the underlying database structure for a wide variety of fossil data types that are important to climate research, including fossil mammals, plants, insects, and other invertebrates. The total award is $2,142,000, with the Illinois State Museum portion being $655,143. NSF only awarded 10 grants nationwide for this competition.

Dr. Eric C. Grimm, chair of the Museum’s Botany section, is the lead investigator for the development of the database. The project is an international collaborative effort among scientists from 23 institutions. It includes investigators from 12 U.S. universities, museums, and government agencies, including the Illinois State Museum, Pennsylvania State University, University of Wisconsin, Lehigh University, North Dakota State University, University of Wyoming, Kent State University, Carleton College, Upper Iowa University, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The project also includes collaborators from ten institutions in countries outside the U.S., including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden, and China.

The database helps fulfill the National Science Foundation’s mission to provide public access to scientific data by creating a common interface for scientists to contribute data, by organizing these data, and by providing Internet access to them. The database also has the scientific objective of enabling simultaneous analyses of a variety of data types to reconstruct past climates and ecosystems. According to Grimm, “The database provides essential infrastructure for global-scale climate-change research.” The various existing databases have different structures, which make cross disciplinary studies difficult. In addition, many data are not currently in any electronic database.

The database will be open access and available on the Internet. In addition to its scientific research focus, the project will develop an interactive website in collaboration with the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota to provide teaching materials and activities for students from grade school to graduate programs.

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