If scientists are to gain a better understanding of the influence of environmental change on the highly diverse but poorly understood faunas of the tropics, they need more detailed, chronologically arranged information. This project constructs a relational database of information on tropical fossils collected by the Panama Paleontology Project (PPP), makes it available via the internet, and links it to a system that will automatically update the ages to the newest standard geologic time scale, which is continually refined with new data. The PPP's fossil collections of mostly foraminifera, mollusks, fish, corals, ostracodes and bryozoans from Central and South America are housed in major world museums. The ages of the fossils are unusually well resolved, which makes them invaluable for fine-scaled research on tropical evolution, geology, biogeography and environmental change. At present, more than 40 scientists from 7 countries have produced over 180 scientific publications based on these collections; however, for continued research, the current information needs to be supplemented and ages need to be standardized to a single time scale.

The PPP Database will have a structure based on a data model of the relationships of the data categories, a web interface for users, and links to the TimeScale-Creator program of the International Commission on Stratigraphy that enables future updates to the newest geologic age information. The existing collections information currently available at www.fiu.edu/~collinsl/pppdatabase.html will also be updated to include newer collections from Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Ecuador (~ 825 sites and ~2000 records).

The main activities of the project are to: add new records and information to the database, provide updated ages for all faunal samples, implement the data model as a relational database, make the entire database available on the web, and make future updates to the newest age information automatic. The additional data will be extracted from documents such as field notebooks, publications and biostratigraphers' reports. The general methods employed for assigning ages are: 1) ordering all collection sites stratigraphically, 2) making biostratigraphic determinations for each site, 3) resolving age problems with the project's biostratigraphers, and 4) assigning biochronologic ages to the sites using the latest age information.

The main results of the project's activities are to enhance knowledge for scientific research and the education of students and postdoctoral scientists. The new database will enable a number of key questions related to large-scale evolutionary and ecological processes to be tested rigorously and at a relatively fine scale by scientists around the world. A graduate student at FIU, Florida's state university in Miami and a federally recognized minority institution, will learn data management and project organization.

Project Report

Our main goals were 1) to update information important to a project about the paleontology of Panama, and 2) to educate students about databases and geological research in Panama. 1) The database is important to dozens of scientists around the world for understanding the evolution of tropical American species, how oceans changed in the Americas over the last 10 million years, and geological processes that caused the Isthmus of Panama to rise. To aid scientific research, we added new information on discoveries of rocks containing fossils, where they are found, and their ages. We continue to update the web site that presents information on the project (www.fiu.edu/~collinsl; select Panama Paleontology Project). We are also working on how to make future updates of ages automatic in the database, so they do not require manual input; this is being accomplished by linking our database to another large, international database of ages being continually updated as geologists improve the accuracy and precision of the geologic time scale. For more on the database, please see our poster at https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2010AM/finalprogram/abstract_179181.htm by selecting the link Presentation Handout near the bottom of the page. 2) Three college students, including two women, were paid by the grant to conduct their own research projects related to our main project, and present them at the large 2009 Geological Society of America meeting. The study of Garcia, Matthews, Gurocak-Orhun and Collins used microscopic marine fossils to describe changes in coastal environments of Panama. The study by Gurocak-Orhun and Collins used the fossils to identify a deepening of seawater across western Panama 6 million years ago that corresponds in time to a sea-level rise. Both of these student studies will be published. The students, who have graduated, learned to use graphics software and sharpened their presentation skills while making and presenting their geology posters to interested scientists. A graduate student, with stipend and tuition paid for one year, helped assemble information for the database. She also learned about database work, graphics software, the geology of Panama, and how a large, international reearch project is organized. She was a coauthor on the paper presented at the 2010 Geological Society of America meeting (see web link, above). She is expected to graduate with a PhD in fall 2014.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Lisa Boush
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Florida International University
United States
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