Fossil Insect Collaborative: A Deep-Time Approach to Studying Diversification and Response to Environmental Change

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Digitization TCN: Fossil Insect Collaborative: A Deep-Time Approach to Studying Diversification and Response to Environmental Change

Fossil Insect TCN
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Project Summary

Fossil insects provide a unique deep-time record of ecological and evolutionary response to past environmental changes and therefore are invaluable for understanding the impacts of climate change on the current biodiversity crisis. Given current models of future climate change and the important role that insects play in human society (biodiversity, pests, pollination, vectors of disease) the ability to access these data and make predictions about future insect populations becomes even more urgent. The Fossil Insect Collaborative will make available all the major collections of fossil insect specimens in the United States by creating electronic specimen records consisting of digital images and associated collection data.

The digitized fossil insect collections will be made broadly accessible to the research community, K-16 education, government and industry, the general public, and the media through the project website and a central site integrating all the paleobiological Thematic Collections Networks called iDigPaleo. Mobile apps and activities that allow a wide variety of users to experience and interact directly with the collections data will be developed. 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

The fossil insect data are of great importance to understanding insect response to environmental change and patterns of insect biodiversity through time.
These fossils can aid in phylogenetic reconstruction, examinations of the evolution of morphological characteristics, and studies of overall patterns of diversification in deep time.

Digitization of fossil insect collections can support studies related to :

  • Pest evolution
  • Parasitic insect co-evolution
  • Insect pollination
  • Insects as vectors of disease
  • Gigantism as a result of climate change.

Project Websites & Social Media

Fossil Insect Collaborative Website

Facebook: FossilInsectCollaborativeDigitizationProject
Twitter: @FossilInsectTCN

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

iDigPaleo Teacher Workshop at Yale: Eight middle school and high school teachers joined FIC PIs and educators at the Yale Peabody Museum on July 20 and 21, 2015 to work with the iDigPaleo database/web page and develop curricula using iDigPaleo in the classroom.

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: University of Colorado at Boulder (NSF Award 1305066)

Principal Investigators (PIs): Dena Smith (PI), Talia Karim (Co-PI)

Collaboratoring Award PIs:
Sam Heads, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; David Grimaldi, American Museum of Natural History; Alton Dooley, Virginia Museum of Natural History; Michael Engel, University of Kansas; Brian Farrell, Harvard University; Susan Butts & Christopher Norris, Yale University; Diane Erwin, University of California, Berkeley

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

American Museum Natural History (NSF Award 1304943)
Harvard University (NSF Award 1304992)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois Natural History Survey (NSF Award 1304622)
University of Kansas, Center for Research (NSF Award 1304957)
Virginia Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1304956)
Yale University - Peabody Museum (NSF Award 1305027)

Unfunded participants:
National Museum of Natural History
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Protocols & Workflows

Amber Preparation Workshop: TCN members met at the AMNH on the 27th and 28th of February, 2015 to discuss digitization progress and learn how best to prepare and image specimens preserved in amber. AMNH project members David Grimaldi and Paul Nascimbene provided the group with an overview of amber and insect inclusions, and also gave tours of the collection, lab space, and equipment needed to properly prepare and preserve amber.


Arillo, Antonio, Enrique PEÑALVER, Ricardo PÉREZ-DE La Fuente, Xavier DELCLÒS, Julia Criscione, Phillip M. Barden, Mark L. Riccio, and David A. Grimaldi. “Long-Proboscid Brachyceran Flies in Cretaceous Amber (Diptera: Stratiomyomorpha: Zhangsolvidae).” Systematic Entomology 40 (2015): 242–67. doi:10.1111/syen.12106.

Delclos, Xavier, Enrique Penalver, Antonio Arillo, Michael S. Engel, André Nel, Dany Azar, and Andrew Ross. "New mantises (Insecta: Mantodea) in Cretaceous ambers from Lebanon, Spain, and Myanmar." Cretaceous Research 60 (2016): 91-108.

Engel, Michael S., Laura CV Breitkreuz, and Michael Ohl. "The first male of the extinct bee tribe Melikertini (Hymenoptera: Apidae)." (2014). Journal of Mellitology, 30,1-18.

Evenhuis, N. L. (2019). First fossil record of the genus Reissa Evenhuis & Báez (Diptera: Mythicomyiidae: Mythicomyiinae) from the Eocene Green River Formation of North America, and discussion of biogeographical implications. Palaeoentomology, 2(3), 223-228.

Heads, Sam, M. Thomas, and Yinan Wang. “A Remarkable New Pygmy Grasshopper (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae) in Miocene Amber from the Dominican Republic.” ZooKeys 429 (2014): 87–100doi:10.3897/zookeys.429.8020.

Heads, S.W., Miller, A.N., Crane, J.L., Thomas, M.J., Ruffatto, D.M., Methven, A.S., Raudabaugh, D.B. & Wang, Y.(2017)"The oldest fossil mushroom.," PLoS ONE, 12(6) e01783272017.

Makarkin, V. N., Heads, S. W., & Wedmann, S. (2017). Taxonomic study of the Cretaceous lacewing family Babinskaiidae (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontoidea: Nymphidoidae), with description of new taxa. Cretaceous Research, 78, 149-160.

Makarkin, V. N., Wedmann, S., & Heads, S. W. (2018). A systematic reappraisal of Araripeneuridae (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontoidea), with description of new species from the Lower Cretaceous Crato Formation of Brazil. Cretaceous Research, 84, 600-621.

Moulds, M. S. (2018). Cicada fossils (Cicadoidea: Tettigarctidae and Cicadidae) with a review of the named fossilised Cicadidae. Zootaxa, 4438(3), 443-470.

O'Dell, R. E., Erwin, D. M., Holroyd, P. A., Rankin, B. D., & El-Faramawi, M. I. (2017). Flora and fauna of the Holocene Oil Canyon paleosite from the poorly understood San Joaquin Desert Biozone. Desert Symposium Field Guide and Proceedings, 2017, p. 310.

Peñalver, Enrique, Antonio Arillo, Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, Mark L. Riccio, Xavier Delclòs, Eduardo Barrón, and David A. Grimaldi. "Long-proboscid flies as pollinators of Cretaceous gymnosperms." Current Biology 25, no. 14 (2015): 1917-1923.

Pérez-de la Fuente, Ricardo, Xavier Delclòs, Enrique Peñalver, and Michael S. Engel. "A defensive behavior and plant-insect interaction in Early Cretaceous amber–The case of the immature lacewing Hallucinochrysa diogenesi." Arthropod structure & development 45, no. 2 (2016): 133-139.

Peris, David, Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, Enrique Peñalver, Xavier Delclòs, Eduardo Barrón, and Conrad C. Labandeira. "False blister beetles and the expansion of gymnosperm-insect pollination modes before angiosperm dominance." Current Biology 27, no. 6 (2017): 897-904.

Prokop, J., Nel, A., Engel, M.S., Pecharova, M. and Hoernschemeyer, T., 2016. New Carboniferous fossils of Spilapteridae enlighten postembryonic wing development in Palaeodictyoptera. Systematic Entomology, 41(1), pp.178-190.

Robinson, J. L., Thomas, M. J., & Heads, S. W. (2018). A fossil caddisfly (Insecta: Trichoptera) from the Eocene of Colorado. Zootaxa, 4403(2), 389-394.

Sánchez-García, A., Peñalver, E., Pérez-de la Fuente, R. and Delclòs, X., 2015. A rich and diverse tanaidomorphan (Crustacea: Tanaidacea) assemblage associated with Early Cretaceous resin-producing forests in North Iberia: palaeobiological implications. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 13(8), pp.645-676.

Spasojevic, T., Broad, G. R., Bennett, A. M., & Klopfstein, S. (2018). Ichneumonid parasitoid wasps from the Early Eocene Green River Formation: five new species and a revision of the known fauna (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae). PalZ, 92(1), 35-63.

Wang, Yan-hui, Michael S. Engel, José A. Rafael, Hao-yang Wu, Dávid Rédei, Qiang Xie, Gang Wang, Xiao-guang Liu, and Wen-jun Bu. "Fossil record of stem groups employed in evaluating the chronogram of insects (Arthropoda: Hexapoda)." Scientific reports 6 (2016).

Professional Presentations

iDigBio Summit V, 2015
iDigBio Summit IV FIC TCN Lightning Talk

Other project documentation


Digitization PEN: Partnership to the Fossil Insect Collaborative for Collections at the University of California Museum of Paleontology

The University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) will join the Fossil Insect Thematic Collections Network (TCN) dedicated to understanding the impacts of environmental change on insect diversity and evolution using paleontological data. The project will expand the TCN's current geographic coverage providing researchers and the public with web-accessible digitized images and specimen records of approximately 4,900 Cenozoic insects that lived during times of significant climate change. These specimens include insects in amber, a rare insect assemblage from the Great Basin, and Ice Age insects from southern California's Rancho La Brea and McKittrick tarpits.

Addition of these specimens to the Fossil Insect TCN will enhance datasets for analyzing how these climatically-sensitive organisms have responded to abrupt environmental changes throughout Earth history, and the implications of climatic warming on present-day biodiversity. Students at UC Berkeley will perform the digitization while learning about the value of natural history collections and their relevance to science. Project data will enhance UCMP's K-16 teacher-student science education programs, global public outreach, and Internet resources. Input from local communities will assist in developing "DigIt", a mobile application for researchers, teachers and students, members of industry, government agencies, and the public. 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 (

Project Sponsor: University of California-Berkeley (NSF Award 1503671)

Principal Investigators (PIs): Diane Erwin

Digitization PEN: Digitizing the Fossil Insects of LA: Critical Additions to the Fossil Insect Collaborative

The primary goal of this project is to digitize five fossil insect collections from the United States, Germany, and Canada. These efforts will make nearly 27,000 new specimen records digitally available online. Collectively, these data will complement the previously awarded Fossil Insect Collaborative (FIC) Digitization (FIC) TCN by filling gaps in the existing dataset, and make these otherwise difficult to access collections significantly more visible to the interested public and research community. This information will facilitate current research aimed at better understanding the globally most diverse group of animals in the context of past, present, and future environments. Results of this project will be communicated to the public through museum events and K-12 classroom programming, ongoing partnership with local avocational paleontologists, and other educational resources developed by the FIC-TCN, including iDigPaleo.

The fossil insect collections to be digitized through this award include compression fossils from the Oligocene Rott Formation ("Statz Collection") of Germany, silicified insects from the Miocene Barstow Formation of California, asphalt-preserved insects from the Pleistocene deposits of Rancho La Brea and McKittrick in California, and lignite-associated insects of Lynn Creek, British Columbia. Notably, these collections are largely historic in nature and include 1,819 type specimens that have been inaccessible for taxonomic re-evaluation by the international research community for decades. Further, the Rott fauna represents an important calibration point in understanding fossil insect diversity trends with respect to global climate transitions (the primary research theme of the FIC-TCN), and the Barstow fauna is taphonomically distinct, as it includes three-dimensionally silicified insect body fossils. Digitization will involve cataloging 10,906 specimens and selectively imaging 6,207 specimens, as well as making available an additional 15,684 specimen records from the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in this data aggregation, all of which will be made available online via the national resource for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (

Project Sponsor: Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1702342)

Principal Investigators (PIs): Austin Hendy, Lindsay Walker, Jann Vendetti