Documenting Fossil Marine Invertebrate Communities of the Eastern Pacific - Faunal Responses to Environmental Change over the last 66 million years

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Digitization TCN: Documenting Fossil Marine Invertebrate Communities of the Eastern Pacific - Faunal Responses to Environmental Change over the last 66 million years ​(EPICC)

Fossil Marine Invertebrate TCN
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Project Summary

Fossils provide our only direct evidence of past biodiversity and how individual organisms to ecosystems have responded to past and long-term environmental change. This project fills a major gap in the documentation of past environmental change, making available digitized data from the especially rich fossil record of the eastern Pacific marine invertebrate communities of the Cenozoic, the 66 million years that have passed since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Digitization and integration of these data will foster increased accessibility, efficient analysis to understand past change, the identification of factors involved in that change, and enable predictions for how current biodiversity may be impacted by future change. Development of virtual fieldwork experiences will assist stakeholders and educators in understanding how field data and fossil collections are used to infer past ecosystem and environmental conditions.

The data currently exist as a vast collection of fossil specimens and printed materials distributed among multiple natural history collections: this project involves 7 primary institutions, one small collection and one federal institution and will integrate this digitized specimen data with the other two ongoing fossil networks through the web portal iDigPaleo, expanding the resource for fossil invertebrate information by spanning over 500 million years. This wealth of data will provide resources not only to researchers, but will be made available to K-16 educators, government, industry, and the general public. Through the national resource (iDigBio) these data will be integrated with information on modern organisms providing the means to understand important questions on niches, environmental change, transitions in sea levels, etc. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students will be trained in the modern uses of natural history collections. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Current Research

Proposed research using collections data of eastern Pacific marine invertebrate fossil collections of the Cenozoic:

  • Assessment of how individual species, communities, and ecosystems respond to environmental change on evolutionary and long-term ecological timescales.
  • Modeling predictions of response to future environmental change.
  • Verification and standardization of taxonomic assemblages for analysis of distribution.
  • Food web analysis.
  • Study of tectonically-induced change on biodiversity.

Project Websites & Social Media




Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

The TCN will produce four virtual field experiences (VFEs) to enable K-16 students, teachers and the public to better understand how the digitized collections are used together with field data to infer past ecosystem and environmental conditions. The VFEs will be widely distributed via the member institutions’ education and outreach portals, including the University of California Museum of Paleontology’s (UCMP) Understanding Global Change (UGC) web resource currently under development (modeled on the high-impact Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science web resources).

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: University of California-Berkeley (NSF Award 1503678)

Lead Principal Investigator: Charles Marshall
Co-Principal Investigators: Seth Finnegan, Patricia Holroyd, Lisa White
EPICC TCN Project Manager: Ashley Dineen

California Academy of Sciences (NSF Award 1503628)
Principal Investigator: Peter Roopnarine
Coordinator: Christine Garcia

John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center
Principal Investigators: Nicole Bonuso, James Parham

Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1503065)
Principal Investigator: Jann Vendetti
Senior Personnel: Austin Hendy
Coordinator: Kathryn Estes-Smargiassi

Paleontological Research Institute (NSF Award 1503611)
Principal Investigator: Gregory Dietl
Senior Personnel: Don Duggan-Haas, Robert Ross, Leslie Skibinski

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
Kathy Hollis, Holly Little

University of Alaska Museum of the North (NSF Award 1503613)
Principal Investigator: Patrick Druckenmiller

University of Oregon (NSF Award 1503545)
Principal Investigator: Edward Davis

San Diego Natural History Museum
Tom Deméré

University of Washington Burke Museum (NSF Award 1502500)
Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Nesbitt
Senior Personnel: Ron Eng
Coordinator: Sara Legler

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

Protocols & Workflows

Standard views of marine invertebrates for photography
Standard methods of labeling marine invertebrates
Using GEOLocate for collaborative georeferencing
StackShot Method for photographing fossil specimens


Marshall et al. (2018). Quantifying the dark data in museum fossil collections as palaeontology undergoes a second digital revolution. Biology Letters
Nesbitt, E. A. (2018). Cenozoic Marine Formations of Washington and Oregon: an annotated catalogue. PaleoBios, 35.

Professional Presentations

Clites iDigBio Summit VII, 2017
Aziz, Hendy and Estes-Smargiassi Geological Society of America (GSA) 2017, Plio-Pleistocene marine molluscs of Carpenteria, CA
Buczek, Hendy et al. GSA 2017, Bivalve shell microstructure preservation of the Careaga Sandstone
Estes-Smargiassi et al. GSA 2017, Project paleo: Citizen curation at LACM
Hendy GSA 2017, High-resolution paleoenvironmental analysis of Carpenteria, CA
Hendy et al. GSA 2017, Bringing students and teachers into the collection to experience authentic science
Hendy et al. GSA 2017, Reimagining invertebrate paleontology at LACM
Marshall et al. GSA 2017, The EPICC TCN
White et al. GSA 2017, Launching Kettleman Hills Virtual Field Experience
Aziz, Hendy et al. Western Society of Malacology (WSM) 2017, Plio-Pleistocene marine molluscs of Carpenteria, CA
Clites, Pearson, et al. WSM 2017, The EPICC TCN
Estes-Smargiassi and Hendy WSM 2017, The great scaphopod hunt
Hendy and Fait WSM 2017, High-resolution paleoenvironmental analysis of Carpenteria, CA
Huh, Laguna and Hendy WSM 2017, Seashells by the Salton Sea (Brawley Formation)
Clites et al. 2017 Digital Data in Biodiversity Research, Creating stratigraphic and taxonomic concordances
Estes-Smargiassi et al. SPNHC 2017, Innovative inventory: shedding light on dark data
Clites Digital Data in Paleontological Research, 2017
Clites iDigBio Summit VI, 2016
Estes-Smargiassi et al. GSA 2016, Increasing diversity and sustainable workflows
Hendy GSA 2016, Temporal changes in body size
White et al. GSA 2016, Kettleman Hills Virtual Field Experience
Marshall iDigBio Summit V, 2015

Other project documentation


Digitization PEN: Enhancing the EPICC TCN with Unique, Well Curated, but Poorly Accessible Collections at the University of California - Riverside

This is a Partner to Existing Networks (PEN) award to the University of California-Riverside Earth Science Museum (UCRESM) to partner with the Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic (EPICC) Thematic Collections Network (TCN). The EPICC TCN is digitizing collections that document the response of coastal invertebrate communities to long-term environmental changes across a wide and continuous range of latitudes since the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. This PEN will digitize about 40,000 marine invertebrate specimens and will contribute data on fossils from boreholes drilled by private industry, bulk specimens from Pleistocene marine terraces, specimens representing the northern extent of the Bay of California, and type specimens of fossils from across Southern California. Throughout the course of the project, undergraduate students will be heavily involved. They will be given training and experience in museum studies earlier in their academic careers than is typical, giving them a boost for future career development opportunities. Many of the students that will be involved are from groups underrepresented in museum sciences. Since the majority of UCR's student body are low-income and/or from underrepresented minorities, paid internships will be provided through this project to provide an avenue for some who would otherwise be unable to enter the field. The UCRESM includes an exhibit hallway visited by about 25,000 people per year, including many of the university's tour groups. Funds from this project will be used to create an interdisciplinary exhibit on the biological, geographical, tectonic, and environmental changes of California's coastline. Specimens digitized will be included and students will play an important part in designing and putting together the exhibit.

Small, out-of-the-way collections such as this are often understudied and inaccessible. This project will provide high-quality data and images to researchers unable to view specimens in person. The boreholes represented specimens from far below the surface that are difficult and expensive to obtain, so those provided by oil companies fill many gaps in the fossil record. Bulk specimens from Pleistocene marine terraces provides a less biased look at the diversity of a site than targeted collections. Specimens from the Bay of California, which once extended far north of the Salton Sea and its fauna had an unexpected affinity with the Caribbean, are important for studying the dispersal of taxa between the Atlantic and Pacific just before the closure of the Panamanian Isthmus. Best practice protocols for digitizing core data created during this project will be uploaded to EPICC's website for other core collections to consult. The data from the project, including high-quality images for 470 type specimens, will be made available online through iDigBio ( and the UCRESM website.

Project Sponsor: University of California-Riverside (NSF Award 1802493)

Principal Investigators: Jess Miller-Camp (PI), Nigel Hughes (Co-PI)

Critical Central and South American additions to the EPICC TCN from the oldest Invertebrate Paleontology collection in the United States

An award is made to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ANSP) to join the Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic (EPICC) Thematic Collections Network (TCN) as a Partner to Existing Networks (PEN). The EPICC TCN focuses on the digitization of marine invertebrate fossils from the last 66 million years from Eastern Pacific rim localities. These specimens capture a record of several important climatic events in geologic history and can help researchers understand how marine invertebrate species and ecosystems have responded to climatic changes in the past, and how they may respond to similar events in the future. Student interns will be hired through Drexel University's co-op program to assist in all aspects of the digitization process. Co-op students will also engage in research and present the results of their work at either a University, local, or national conference. Collections staff will also work with ANSP's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program for high school girls from underserved families in Philadelphia. Two WINS students will intern as part of the ANSP EPICC team, and then will receive a scholarship to attend Drexel?s summer geoscience field camp for high school students as a capstone experience.

For this project, ANSP staff will digitize and make available online specimen and locality data for approximately 18,300 EPICC TCN-relevant specimens held in the ANSP Invertebrate Paleontology Department. ANSP collections staff will also photograph and make available online images for 402 EPICC TCN-relevant historic type specimens. This large and historic collection is largely uncatalogued, is not digitized, and is not available online. The specimens digitized through the EPICC TCN will represent the first online presence for the ANSP Invertebrate Paleontology collection, the oldest invertebrate paleontology collection in North America. In addition, this PEN will fill key gaps within the EPICC project, with a particular focus on specimens from Central and South America. The specimen data and the type specimen photographs from this PEN will be made available to researchers and the public through iDigBio ( in accordance with EPICC's policy.

Project Sponsor: Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia (NSF Award 1902275)

Principal Investigators: Jocelyn Sessa (PI), Kathryn Estes-Smargiassi (co-PI)