Community-Supported Data Repositories in Paleoinformatics: Building the Middle Tail
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Paleoecologists use geological data to study ecological dynamics during past environmental change. Our data is hard-won and expensive, usually requiring weeks to months of fieldwork and years of laboratory analyses. Our scientific expertise is dispersed and distributed across taxonomic groups, regions, geological time periods, and research questions. There is an inherent disconnect between the global-scale questions that motivate much of our research (e.g. the responses of global biodiversity to climate change) and the scale of data collection (site-level spatial data, long time scales). Because of the above, paleoecologists have a long and proud tradition of sharing their data into community-supported data repositories (CSDRs), to enable them to tackle big questions and work at regional, continental, and global spatial scales. Now, the on-going revolution in information sciences is creating both challenges and opportunities for CSDRs, but mostly opportunities. In this talk we will present to you our perspective as paleoecologists who collect primary data, engage in large-scale synthetic research, and are increasingly taking on leadership roles in the building and development of the Neotoma Paleoecology Database (www.neotomadb.org), a CSDR dedicated to supporting community research into ecological dynamics over the large climate changes of the Quaternary Period. We?ll present recent developments and then discuss some of the current challenges that we are either solving or seeking solutions.