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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Unearthing Precambrian Protistan Taxonomy with BHL

Amoebozoans are believed to have existed for hundreds of millions of years. These ancient protists are characterized by the presence of pseudopodia, cytoplasm-filled projections that are used for locomotion and feeding.

Today, over 2,000 species of Amoebozoa are recognized. The phylum itself was first scientifically described by Max Lühe, a professor at the University of Königsberg (Germany), in 1913.

Dr. Leigh Anne Riedman, a NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences), specializes in Precambrian paleontology. Her research involves fossils similar to the testate amoebae described and illustrated by Lühe in 1913. However, Riedman quickly discovered that tracking down the reference for Lühe’s paper to support her studies was more challenging than anticipated.

“Many authors working on Amoebozoa would mention Lühe’s name, but I never found a single full reference for this paper,” recalls Riedman.

Testate amoebae described and illustrated by Max Lühe. Handbuch der Morphologie der wirbellosen Tiere. Bd. 1 (1913). Digitized by the American Museum of Natural History. http://s.si.edu/2tiM3BF.

Fortunately, with help of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Riedman was able to unearth this crucial publication.

“Armed with only an author name and year, Lühe, 1913, and the keyword ‘amoeboa,’ I found it!” exclaims Riedman. “BHL was the only place I was able to track down this reference.”

Riedman cites this reference in her upcoming paper, “Vase-Shaped Microfossil Biostratigraphy with New Data from Tasmania, Svalbard, Greenland, Sweden and the Yukon”, which will be published in Precambrian Research later this year.

Dr. Riedman on a sampling trip to King Island, Tasmania in 2010. She and her colleagues collected materials for study of acritarchs from the Sturtian glaciation and the interglacial interval of the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth as well as older fossils called vase-shaped microfossils that are thought to be fossil testate amoebae.

Riedman has been studying Precambrian paleontology for nearly two decades. Her work deals with a group of fossils called the acritarchs, organic microfossils that first appeared approximately 1,400 to 3,200 million years ago. Since first discovering BHL while searching for early taxonomic works on this group, the Library has become a vital part of Riedman’s research process.

“BHL is fantastic!” lauds Riedman. “It has made a huge difference in my work- sometimes providing access to texts I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, sometimes by giving me the gift of my own time, as I don’t have to spend hours or days tracking down a resource, waiting on interlibrary loan, and then either scanning it for text recognition and translation or typing it into a translator piece-meal.”

Vase-shaped microfossils from Tasmania. Likely about 760 million years old.

Using BHL several times per month, Riedman downloads PDFs of articles or books for use in fossil identification and synonymy lists. The ability to view the whole journal volume within BHL not only gives Riedman context for the article she is seeking, but also helps her find additional relevant articles in the process, thereby increasing the quality and efficiency of her research.

“There have been several times that I’ve used BHL to track down references listed in taxonomic synonymy sections that weren’t available anywhere else,” shares Riedman. “I am paranoid about citing a reference I’ve never read, so without getting access to those texts through BHL, I might have had to cut sections from research papers or sell my soul and cite a paper sight unseen *gasp*!”

Dr. Riedman sampling drillcore in Alice Springs, Australia. These shale samples were placed into hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the rock- this process leaves the organic-walled fossils intact. Those are then studied by transmitted light microscope and scanning electron microscope.

In Riedman’s opinion, BHL is important not only for supporting modern scientific research, but also for ensuring that the work of past scientists is not forgotten.

“Many of the articles I’ve been able to access through BHL were written by pioneers in this field, like Tadas Jankauskas and Boris Timofeev, and their work deserves recognition (even if it is in a language other than English!),” emphasizes Riedman. “Our field is too young to be forgetting its past already. I am so glad to be able to gain access to more and more of these publications online.”

Dr. Riedman sampling drillcore in Darwin, Australia.

Through its worldwide consortium of natural history and botanical libraries, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is working to ensure that the published record of biodiversity knowledge is freely available to researchers across the globe. By making this content globally accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, BHL is helping to advance scientific research and inspire discovery of the natural world.

You can help support global research through a tax-deductible donation to BHL. With your help, we can continue to democratize access to information about biodiversity and empower scientific research on a global scale.

By Grace Costantino 
Outreach and Communication Manager 
Biodiversity Heritage Library

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This post may contain the personal opinions of BHL users or affiliated staff and does not necessarily represent the official Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) position on these matters.

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