About the Society Governance Documents SVP response to NSF on the Collections in the Service of Biological Research Program (CBSR) hiatus

SOCIETY STATEMENT

SVP'S OFFICIAL RESPOSNE LETTER TO NSF ON THE CBSR HIATUS
26 March 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), a research-focused professional organization with more than 2500 members, urges you not only to continue the Collections in the Service of Biological Research program (CBSR), but to increase its share of funding and to expand the scope of collections to which it applies.  

CSBR provides valuable support for research in vertebrate paleontology.  Our field, which is among the most productive within evolutionary biology, depends on data collected from specimens that are placed into repositories. Not only the primary evidence for vertebrate life in the past comes from fossils, many of the fundamental scientific questions of our time are addressed with vertebrate fossils.  Does climate change cause extinction?  How, why, when, and where, did humans originate?  How were genetic and developmental processes involved in the origin of body parts, such as limbs?  Repositories serve as venues for making new discoveries accessible to the scientific community as well as sources for collecting new data from specimens generated by past field projects.  The value of vertebrate fossils to current research is demonstrated by the fact that 15 papers based on them have already been published in Nature and Science in the just the first three months of 2016 (see Appendix 1).  Consider for example, the one Lyons et al. (2016) titled “Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts”.  Based on literally tens of thousands of fossil specimens housed in hundreds of repositories, many of which were collected decades or even centuries ago, they concluded that human impacts on ecological community structure is fundamentally different than the ecological processes that have operated over the last 300 million years of Earth history. By supporting specimen repositories, CSBR helps provide the data infrastructure for research in our field.  

By funding institutions with repositories, CSBR supports vertebrate paleontology everywhere.  Our data come from visits to repositories, loans we receive from them, and new specimens we accession into them.  Institutional repositories thus provide infrastructural support for researchers outside their institution, and thus deserve financial support from the scientific community.  The funds and institutional commitment needed to maintain repositories are not trivial.  Vertebrate fossils are rare – often one of a kind – laborious to collect, easily damaged, and increasingly prized by private collectors.  Repositories must protect specimens from theft, prevent them from being damaged, ameliorate damage that has already been done, store them in a way that prevents them from degrading, and anticipate the ways in which new data may be collected in the future so as not to pre-emptively destroy the possibilities opened by new technology.  Furthermore, repositories must disseminate inventories to the scientific community, accommodate visitors, process loan requests, and provide data.  The costs of these services are the responsibility of the institutions that house them, not the researchers who benefit from them.  Therefore, CSBR provides critical funding for researchers by supporting the infrastructure on which the community depends.

By funding repositories, CSBR aids professional and ethical practices in science.  The SVP’s code of ethics requires its members to place vertebrate fossils into stable, long-term public repositories.  Similarly, the National Science Foundation, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and regulatory bodies in many states require that fossils collected with public funding or from public lands be placed into accessible repositories.  Reputable scientific journals, like PLoS ONE, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Evolution, and Palaeontology, with high ethical standards require that all specimens discussed in manuscripts must be housed in public research repositories.  Therefore, the lack of funding for specimen repositories will undoubtedly hamper the advancement of synthetic research, especially since the acquisition of important new collections often require external funds like those provided by CSBR.

Funding from CSBR can also be rhetorically important within institutions for the allocation of local budgets.  Most of the financial support for repositories is provided by institutions themselves, but formulas for allocation of resources within universities and public-sector research institutions is often based on success in securing external funds.  Grants from CSBR often serve as important evidence that the repository deserves internal funding, even though only a small amount of support actually comes from National Science Foundation.  Discontinuing CSBR funding may therefore lead to loss of internal funding and thus have the indirect effect of placing critical scientific data and research output in double jeopardy.

Examples of how CSBR funding has been important to paleontological research and training abound.  In reviewing NSF support to paleontological repositories, we found 67 grants since 1993 totalling more than $20 million (see Appendix 2).  Thanks to grants to the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, the San Diego Museum of Natural History, and the Yale Peabody Museum, this support has improved to access to material that each of the authors of this letter has used in our research.  These grants has also supported the first curatorial training for some of us (96849), they have been used to upgrade storage of material we have collected (138662), they have supported development of Specify and HerpNet which we use in our daily research lives (0132303), and they have been used to leverage institutional funding for collections management and space renovation at our home institutions (846697).  

In summary, we urge you to continue prioritizing the CSBR and other infrastructural programs that provide funding for repositories.  This is because cutting edge scientific research in vertebrate paleontology, where the United States is one of the world’s leaders in this field, is impossible without them.  Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

John A. Long
President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

P. David Polly
Vice President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

Catherine A. Forster
Past President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology


APPENDIX 1:  Science and Nature papers from 2016 based on vertebrate fossils in specimen repositories
  1. Evans, A. R., Daly, E. S., Catlett, K. K., Paul, K. S., King, S. J., Skinner, M. M., ... & Jernvall, J. (2016). A simple rule governs the evolution and development of hominin tooth size. Nature, 530(7591), 477-480.
  2. Gibbons, A. (2016). Five matings for moderns, Neandertals. Science, 351(6279), 1250-1251.
  3. Gibbons, A. (2016). Neandertal genes linked to modern diseases. Science, 351(6274), 648-649.
  4. Gómez-Robles, A. (2016). Palaeoanthropology: What teeth tell us. Nature, 530(7591), 425-426.
  5. Katoh, S., Beyene, Y., Itaya, T., Hyodo, H., Hyodo, M., Yagi, K., ... & Nakaya, H. (2016). New geological and palaeontological age constraint for the gorilla–human lineage split. Nature, 530(7589), 215-218.
  6. Kuhlwilm, M., Gronau, I., Hubisz, M. J., de Filippo, C., Prado-Martinez, J., Kircher, M., ... & Rosas, A. (2016). Ancient gene flow from early modern humans into Eastern Neanderthals. Nature, 530(7591), 429-433.
  7. Lahr, M. M., Rivera, F., Power, R. K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., ... & Leakey, A. (2016). Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, 529(7586), 394-398.
  8. Lyons, S. K., Amatangelo, K. L., Behrensmeyer, A. K., Bercovici, A., Blois, J. L., Davis, M., ... & Graves, G. R. (2016). Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts. Nature, 529(7584), 80-83.
  9. McCoy, V.E., Saupe, E.E., Lamsdell, J.C., Tarhan, L.G., McMahon, S., Lidgard, S., Mayer, P., Whalen, C.D., Soriano, C., Finney, L. and Vogt, S., (2016). The ‘Tully monster’is a vertebrate. Nature.
  10. Padian, K. (2016). Evolution: Doing the locomotion. Nature, 530(7591), 416-417.
  11. Pitulko, V. V., Tikhonov, A. N., Pavlova, E. Y., Nikolskiy, P. A., Kuper, K. E., & Polozov, R. N. (2016). Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains. Science, 351(6270), 260-263.
  12. Rasmussen, S. O., & Svensson, A. M. (2016). Comment on “Abrupt warming events drove Late Pleistocene Holarctic megafaunal turnover”. Science, 351(6276), 927-927.
  13. Simonti, C. N., Vernot, B., Bastarache, L., Bottinger, E., Carrell, D. S., Chisholm, R. L., ... & Li, R. (2016). The phenotypic legacy of admixture between modern humans and Neandertals. Science, 351(6274), 737-741.
  14. van den Bergh, Gerrit D., Bo Li, Adam Brumm, Rainer Grün, Dida Yurnaldi, Mark W. Moore, Iwan Kurniawan et al. (2016) Earliest hominin occupation of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nature 529(7585): 208-211.
  15. Waters, C. N., Zalasiewicz, J., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A. D., Poirier, C., Gałuszka, A., ... & Jeandel, C. (2016). The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science, 351(6269), aad2622.

APPENDIX 2:  NSF grants since 1993 that directly supported paleontological repositories
Award # Grant Title
9312036 Collection Improvement for Invertebrate Paleontology at Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
9631431  Support for the Field Museum Fossil Mammal Collection: A New Collection Facility
9616443 Support for Paleobotanical Collections at Field Museum
9616480 Integration of University of Cincinnati Invertebrate Paleontology Collection with Cincinnati Museum Center
9709308 Enhanced Housing, Level of Curation, and Accessibility for Two Major Invertebrate Paleontology Collections: The Paleontological Research Institution and Cornell University
9728991 Support for the Field Museum Fossil Invertebrate Collection
9808626 Improvement of Collection of Fossil Vertebrates, Department of Geology and Geophysics, The University of Wyoming
9808806 OZ: Deploying a Community Software Application for Biocollections Information
9876782 Restoration of the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection, Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Phase 1
9876772 Curation and Rehousing of the Orphaned USGS Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain Tertiary Collection
9876840 Curation of a Major Alaska, Arctic and West Coast Orphan Paleontological Collection
9876851 Relocation and Rehousing of Paleontology Collections
9876793 A New Combined Collection Facility for the University of Connecticut Systematic Research Collections
9876815 Collection Improvement for O.C. Marsh's Dinosaurs at Yale/ Peabody Museum
9987445 Sustaining the Biodiversity Collections Infrastructure with the Specify Database Management System
9987512 Restoration of Oklahoma Museum of Natural History Vertebrate Paleontology Collection, Phase III: Computerization and Verification
9987372 Fossil Insects and Amber Fossils at the American Museum of Natural History: Preparation, Curation, and Conservation
9987499 Proposal to Complete the Re-housing and Renovation of the Invertebrate Paleontology Collections
9986792 Support for the San Diego Natural History Museum Paleontology Collection: Mobile Compactor System and Collection Conservation to Enhance Access and Research Use
9987475 Compactorization, Reorganization, and Electronic Cataloguing of the Peabody Museum Paleobotany Collections
0096849 Curation of Paleopalynological and Paleobotanical Collections, Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Phase I
0096768 Reorganization of the University of Iowa Paleontology Repository
0138662 Storage Equipment for New Vertebrate Paleontology Acquisitions
0237425 Conservation of Deteriorating Vertebrate Paleontology Nitrate Negatives
0237337 Beyond the Bottleneck: New Initiatives in Invertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
0237368 Wood Identification Collection Enhancement and Web Access
0346452 Archiving the History of Life: High-Density Storage to Solve Space Needs for an Invertebrate Paleontology Research and Teaching Collection
0345518 Conservation, Rehousing, and Computerization of the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology
0345875 Improvement and Computerization of the Invertebrate Paleontology Collections at the CU Museum of Natural History
0346678 Conservation of the Princeton Collection and Oversize Fossils at the Yale Peabody Museum
0346526 Compacterization of the IMNH Vertebrate Paleontology Collection to Enhance Access and Research Use
0514590 Workshop on Paleontological Collections Databases to be held May 31 - June 1, 2005, Spingfield, IL
0445424 New Insect Cabinetry for the Division of Entomology, University of Kansas Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center
0447298 Computerization of the Type Specimen Collection of the Paleontological Research Institution
0447271 Expansion and Improvement of the Penn Cranial CT Database
0545210 Conserving and Incorporating the Stratigraphic Collection of Brachiopods into the Systematic Collection (the "Schuchert Collection") and Development of an Online Database
0545155 Support for the AMNH Fossil Mammal Collection: An Integrated Program to Rehouse Types and Perissodactyla, and Enhance On-Line Collections Data and Web-Based Educational Resources
0544235 Computerization of the University of Iowa Paleontology Repository
0546549 The University of Missouri Conodont Collection and Database Effort
0535316 Renovation and Computerization of the University of Nebraska Vertebrate Paleontology Collection
0545092 Integrated Computerization of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany Collections, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Phase 1
0645865 Computerization and Integration of Exceptional Invertebrate Fossil Research Collections: Florida Museum of Natural History
0646468 Conservation, Digitization, and Georeferencing of the Non-Vertebrate Paleontology Type and Figured Collection of the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas
0646420 Conservation, Curation, and Website Development for the Karl Hirsch Fossil Eggshell Collection at the University of Colorado Museum
0749657 Curation of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Herbarium Collections at the Cameron University Herbarium (CAMU)
0749683 Enhancement of the Paleontology Research Collection at the University of Montana
0955516 The CU Denver Tracks Collection: physical transfer, curatorial upgrades, and internet access
1057396 Open Access: Conservation, Digitization and Interoperability of the Historic Non-Vertebrate Collections of the Texas Natural Science Center
1057426 Critical upgrades and digitization of the UAM Earth Sciences Collection
1055588 Computerization, Integration and On-Line Accessibility of Exceptional Invertebrate Fossil Research Collections: Florida Museum of Natural History
1203222 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Curation and Digitization of Recently Acquired, Major Fossil Vertebrate Research Collections at the Florida Museum of Natural History
1203394 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Support for the AMNH Invertebrate Paleontology Collection; Addressing a critical need to conserve and digitize the Microfossil Collection
1203530 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Equipment for The Field Museum's Fossil Mammal Collection Range for the Accommodation of Nonmammalian Synapsids and the Turnbull Collection
1203600 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Completing the rehabilitation of the orphaned USGS fossil invertebrate collection at the University of California Museum of Paleontology
1349212 CSBR: Natural History: Curation and Digitization of Newly Acquired Modern and Fossil Invertebrate and Protist Research Collections at the SDSM&T Museum of Geology
1349322 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Critical renovation and revitalization of the University of Iowa Fossil Plant Collection
1349276 CSBR: Natural History: Implementation of an Integrated Database Platform for the University of Michigan Biological Collections
1349326 CSBR: Natural History: Uncrowding, rehousing, and digitization of the non-federal fossil vertebrate collection at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science
1349430 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Protecting and Improving Orange County's (California) Palentological Collection (OCPC)
1458192 CSBR: Ownership Transfer: Miocene Colombian Vertebrates and Conservation of the Duke Lemur Center Fossil Collections
1458198 CSBR:Natural History: Critical infrastructure upgrades and expanded digital access to Non-vertebrate Paleontology Collections at the University of Texas at Austin
1458151 CSBR: Natural History Collections: Curation, Digitization, Integration, and On-Line Access of Two Exceptional Invertebrate Fossil Research Collections
1561315 CSBR: Natural History: Securing Paleobotanical Collections at the University of Kansas: Evolution of Seed Plants and Antarctic Fossil Plants
1561331 CSBR: Natural History: Saving and Preserving the Cornell University Plant Anatomy Collection (CUPAC) And The Cornell University Paleobotanical Slide Collection (CUPC-S)
846697 Infrastructure upgrade, curation and data basing of Indiana University collections
847118 Reorganization and computerization of the non-type systematic mollusk collection of the Paleontological Research Institution
847820 University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology invertebrate fossils: Databasing and web-accessibility