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Opening access to collections of fish scales and otoliths

A new paper in the journal Ecological Informatics from MFRC and Marine Institute researchers, highlights the value of scale and otolith collections and provides an open source system to facilitate curation and access.

Globally, millions of fish scales and otoliths and other calcified structures are held within research centres, museums, universities, government institutions and private collections. These structures store information about the environment and organism responses to that environment in their physical and chemical composition. Many contain annual, seasonal or even daily growth marks that allow the information to be related to specific points in time and in the organism’s life history. The structures are retained within the organism throughout its life and are readily preserved in sediments. The information they contain can be used to address questions relating to climate change, food security and sustainability.

Often, these collections accumulate as a by-product of scientific monitoring programs and short-term projects; long-term curation is rarely a central objective. The immense value of the collections to scientific research is threatened by improper storage of the material and associated data and lack of accessibility to researchers.

This study lays out a road map and provides a toolbox for creating an ‘open’ digital and physical infrastructure for biomineral collections. While the system was specifically designed for fish scale and otolith archives and associated images and data (The Irish Fish Biochronology Archive: IFBA), it can be adapted for biological sample archives from a variety of species, locations, or time periods.

This research was funded through Grant-Aid Agreement No. PBA/FS/16/03 (unlocking the archive: using scale and otolith chronologies to resolve climate impacts) under the Marine Research Programme by the Irish Government.

Read more about the Unlocking the Archive project here

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