Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Online Discovery Lecture Series

Friday, November 6, 2020
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Bringing Dark Data into the Light, One Shell at a Time

By Dr. Nicole Bonuso, CSU Fullerton

The vast majority of fossil data lies tucked away in museum drawers waiting to be rediscovered. Many fossil collections throughout the eastern Pacific region, including those collected in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA decades ago, remain invisible to the majority of researchers. The Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic (EPICC) - a collaboration of 10 natural history museums and academic institutions - focuses on opening museum cabinet drawers to provide global access to fossil marine invertebrate data that is otherwise only accessible to a limited few. A small fraction, 3% to 4% of fossil localities worldwide are currently accounted for in literature-based digital data repositories like the Paleobiology Database. However, the published literature represents only a fraction of the paleontological data housed in museums. Digitization of nine institutions’ holding of Cenozoic marine invertebrate collection from California, Oregon, and Washington reveals that museum data represents 23 times the number of unique fossil localities than are currently recorded in the Paleobiology Database. When mobilized fully, these data will enable paleontologist to make inferences about the patterns and processes of past evolutionary and ecological changes – particularly in this age of rapid global change.

For example, restoring native oyster population to our coasts provides a natural way to deal with our ever-changing coastal ecosystems. In Southern California, restoration efforts continue to reestablish oyster population to our coast. However, ecological baseline (reference conditions) studies for Southern California oyster communities need further investigation. We argue that examining deep-time diversity and abundance patterns, gleaned from the fossil record, can aid in establishing a more complete baseline for restoration, document a better range of ecological variability, and assist in determining desired future restoration goals.

Dr. Nicole Bonuso is an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) specializing in invertebrate paleontology. Originally from New Jersey, Nicole completed a B.A degree in Geology at University of Rhode Island. She completed her graduate work in paleontology at Syracuse University (M.S. degree) and University of Southern California (Ph.D.). Her research focuses on evolutionary paleoecology – a research area that examines the ecological context of long-term (i.e., evolutionary) changes in the fossil record. She has spent the last decade establishing, and continuing, an evolutionary paleoecological project within Central Nevada which focuses on documenting patterns during Earth’s largest mass extinction ~250 million years ago. In total, Nicole published or co-published 12 peer-reviewed articles on some aspect of evolutionary paleoecology that uses multivariate statistics as a tool to link cause and effect patterns between organisms and their environment. Mentoring 16 student theses within her Evolutionary Paleoecology Lab at CSUF ( continues to be her most memorable and rewarding work.

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