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Expert At Greenwich's Bruce Museum Helps Launch Fossil Database

The Fossil Calibration Database launched on Tuesday, Feb. 24.
The Fossil Calibration Database launched on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Photo Credit: Contributed

GREENWICH, Conn. -- The Fossil Calibration Database, a groundbreaking new online resource for scientists, was developed after years of work by a worldwide team co-led by Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.

The resource is designed to help answer scientific mysteries, such as when a certain group of plants or animals first evolved.

The database, http://fossilcalibrations.org , is a free, open-access resource that stores carefully vetted fossil data.

Co-leader of the project with Ksepka was James Parham, curator at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Orange County, Calif.

It was funded through the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).

“Fossils provide the critical age data we need to unlock the timing of major evolutionary events,” said Ksepka. “This new resource will provide the crucial fossil data needed to calibrate ‘molecular clocks’ which can reveal the ages of plant and animal groups that lack good fossil records.

When did groups like songbirds, flowering plants, or sea turtles evolve? What natural events were occurring that may have had an impact? Precisely tuning the molecular clock with fossils is the best way we have to tell evolutionary time.” More than twenty paleontologists, molecular biologists, and computer programmers from five different countries contributed to the design and implementation of this new database.

The Fossil Calibrations Database webpage launched on Tuesday, Feb. 24, and a series of five peer-reviewed papers and an editorial on the topic will appear in the scientific journal Palaeontologia Electronica, describing the endeavor. Ksepka is the author of one of the papers and co-author of the editorial.

“This exciting field of study, known as ‘divergence dating,’ is important for understanding the origin and evolution of biodiversity, but has been hindered by the improper use of data from the fossil record,” said Parham. “The Fossil Calibration Database addresses this issue by providing molecular biologists with paleontologist-approved data for organisms across the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life? Think of it as a family tree of all species,” explains Ksepka.

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