Natural History Conferences: Fall Roundup

This month the SPNHC EPG blog brings you recaps of several natural history conferences from this fall (in case you weren’t able to make it to all of them!): the annual meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), the Geological Society of America (GSA), and the Entomological Collections Network (ECN), and iDigBio Summit V.


The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

75th Annual Meeting, October 14-17 in Dallas, TX

Report by Taormina Lepore

By far the biggest draw for those who study vertebrate fossils is the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP). This year’s SVP meeting was particularly meaningful. When we all convened in Dallas, ready to enjoy the sunny Texan October weather, we were celebrating more than an annual round-up of awards and research well done. This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Society, which brought with it lots of memorabilia and fond nostalgia of the Society’s long and storied past.

Lepore SVP

SVP convenes at the Perot Museum. Photo by Tara Lepore.

It was particularly cool to see the original founding documents of the Society, to read about the history of its members and the many meeting locations, and to learn about how the Society’s emblem was designed. The original Marsh pick used for the logo was on display – talk about a museum piece!

The meeting also honored a number of students and accomplished academics as it does each year. I was especially proud to be there to see my former undergraduate advisor, Dr. Margery Coombs, receive the Society’s Honorary Member award for her lifetime of achievement in vertebrate paleontology.

This meeting was the first time I was able to hop on to a field trip, too. A big group of us gathered on a tour bus like excited high school students, and we zipped from one famous archosaur dig site to another in the metro Dallas area. A highlight of the trip was our visit to Dinosaur Valley State Park, where we literally walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas. Our trip leaders, including Chris Strganac, Jim Farlow, Chris Noto, and Thomas Adams, all made the various stops engaging and a ton of fun. We also learned how to wade waist-deep in the murky Paluxy and sweep – yes, sweep – fossil tracks that were buried by fine silt beneath our soggy feet.

svp tracks

Dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Photo by Tara Lepore.

Other gems from the meeting were the annual silent and live auctions, which are always a hoot. This year the live auctioneers dressed like characters from Jurassic World, complete with hovering toy pterosaurs that kept interrupting the proceedings with their antics.

Another new addition this year was an emphasis on ethical sharing of information from meetings, including what should and shouldn’t be included in live tweets and other social media posts when scientific data and conclusions are being discussed in talks or posters. This topic will continue to evolve with each new meeting, and each new type of social media. In essence, asking permission and being polite were the common sense rules when sharing potentially sensitive stuff on the internet.

To round out the meeting, the close-knit society held its farewell bash. Many great connections were made throughout the week, and it was great fun catching up with new friends and old colleagues. The nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science also hosted a great open house, along with a few educational workshops for teachers, a growing trend for sharing our work with educators and students of all ages. SVP’s emphasis on strong networking and outreach to share our scientific passion makes it a great society, really a big family of scientists, each of us striving to connect our present with the ancient fossil animals of eons gone by.

Taormina (Tara) Lepore is a professional paleontologist and science educator who has spent her career working in public schools and science museums. She holds an M.S. in Museum and Field Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a biology degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, focusing her research on collections management and trace fossil paleoecology at both institutions. She is a lead writer at the experiential education-based blog Outbound Adventurer.


The Geological Society of America

November 1-4 in Baltimore, MD

Report by Lindsay Walker and Allison Vitkus

The annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) attracts thousands of geoscience professionals and students. The 2015 meeting in Baltimore was no exception, with 7,400 attendees delivering over 4,700 presentations.

In partnership with The Paleontological Society, GSA Geoinformatics Division, EarthCube C4P, and iSamples, SPNHC sponsored a series of special topical sessions focused on the use of digitized data in geological and paleontological research and outreach. The Society also co-sponsored a fourth session emphasizing fossils resources on public lands. Many of these presenters discussed collaborations between public land management agencies and partner institutions, and their efforts to organize data gathered from these collections.

If you were unable to attend the GSA meeting, all abstracts are available online:

As a reminder, any SPNHC member–EPs included!–can volunteer to help with the SPNHC exhibitor booth at professional meetings and events, sometimes in exchange for waived registration fees depending on your commitment level.

Walker GSA

Lindsay Walker (pictured) and Allison Vitkus volunteered at the SPNHC booth at GSA in Baltimore, MD.

In addition to volunteering for the SPNHC booth at the GSA’s annual meeting, EPG correspondents Lindsay Walker and Allison Vitkus both presented on their respective Master’s research projects completed as Museum and Field Studies students at the University of Colorado Boulder. Lindsay also presented on her recent work as an intern at the AMNH.

The GSA’s next annual meeting will be held earlier than usual, September 25-28, 2016 in Denver, CO.

Lindsay Walker is a Digitization Technician at the Natural History Museum of Utah, where she is working to image the museum’s entomology collections. She can be contacted at and

Allison Vitkus is currently an Educational Assistant with the District 11 School System in Colorado Springs, CO. In January, she will start work as a Resource Management Assistant at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. She can be contacted at


The people at the podcast Palaeocast also recently interviewed some presenters at GSA and SVP, so take a listen if you haven’t gotten enough paleontology here!


iDigBio Summit V

November 5-6 in Arlington, VA

Report by Gil Nelson

Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) held its 5th Annual Summit November 5-6, 2015, this time in Arlington, VA, near the offices of the National Science Foundation (NSF). iDigBio is the NSF’s designated national resource and coordinating center for the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) initiative and is focused on enabling and facilitating digitization and biodiversity data mobilization from natural history collections throughout the United States.

iDigBio Summit - Larry Page

iDigBio Director Dr. Larry Page addresses Summit attendees. Photo by Joanna McCaffrey.

iDigBio Summit - David Jennings

iDigBio Project Manager David Jennings applauds several participants important to the success of iDigBio. Photo by Joanna McCaffrey.

The ADBC community, which overlaps significantly with SPNHC, comprises about 270 ADBC-funded institutions—including projects in all U.S. states and one territory—through a system of Thematic Collections Networks (TCN). Many additional institutions participate in iDigBio workshops, webinars, and working groups, a number of which are digitizing collections and contributing data to the iDigBio portal. The annual Summit provides an opportunity for representatives from the TCNs and other national and international programs to provide updates on activities, discuss and resolve common issues, establish new collaborations, and explore promising avenues for achieving ADBC goals.

iDigBio Summit discussions

Issues-based discussions were a highlight of this year’s iDigBio Summit. Photo by Joanna McCaffrey.

The more than 150 attendees at this year’s event, including many early career professionals, made Summit V an especially rich opportunity for information interchange. The complete program and recordings of activities are available on the Summit wiki.

iDigBio Summit group photo

About 150 participants attended this year’s iDigBio Summit. Photo by Joanna McCaffrey.

iDigBio appreciates the interest, activities, and huge reservoir of talent represented by emerging professionals and values the numerous contributions emerging professionals make to national and international digitization efforts. We encourage early career participants to continue to take advantage of iDigBio workshops and activities and to maintain their involvement in the digitization and mobilization of biodiversity data.

Dr. Gil Nelson is a faculty member at Florida State University and an active SPNHC member. He specializes in digitization research and implementation for iDigBio and serves on the iDigBio Steering Committee.


The Entomological Collections Network

November 14-15 in Minneapolis, MN

Report by Colleen Evans

The Entomological Collections Network (ECN) meeting is held yearly, usually just before the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting. ECN focuses specifically on information related to entomological and arthropod natural history collections. This year ECN was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 14-15.

Evans ECN

Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Colleen Evans.

Saturday focused mainly on collection digitization and uses for digitized insect data. The morning session covered various aspects of collection digitization including capturing field notes, new data management systems and data curation. The afternoon session, “Using digitized collection data in research,” was sponsored by iDigBio and featured current projects using digitized insect data. Throughout the day there were additional talks on topics including the logistics of international insect collecting, the formation of cryogenic collections, and the archival quality of Gum-Chloral based slide media. Following the talks, ECN held its first poster session.

Sunday’s main session was on living collections, a close relation of natural history collections. The presentations covered both research-stock collections and outreach collections. These talks were helpful in illustrating the similar, but different nature of live insect collections and lent perspective on some of the obstacles and challenges involved in both creating and maintaining one. The final two talks of the day were about communicating the purpose of collections and the discovery of biological collections data.

After the talks had finished, the president of the Entomological Society of America presented ESA’s Formal Policy Statement on Entomological Collections. One of ESA’s current goals is to better communicate entomological issues to policymakers. In that vein, a Science Policy Statement was drafted earlier this year regarding entomology collections and their value to science and to society at large. This document was approved by the ESA governing board and will be used to advocate for collections and their continued support.

To round out the day, there was a forum that that gave everyone the opportunity to provide their opinions on some current topics important to the community. The first subject was communicating the purpose of collections to the public. This is a subject that has garnered a lot of attention in recent months throughout the entire collections community, not just in entomology. There were some great points made, which really boiled down to two main ideas: the value of specimens for the historical record and the necessity of collections to science. The second subject in the forum was destructive sampling and what considerations should be made in drafting a destructive sampling policy.

The entire meeting was recorded by iDigBio and can be viewed on their wiki.

Colleen Evans is the Collections Manager for the Institute for Coastal Plain Science and the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. The collections span all modern taxa and include the U.S. National Tick Collection. Colleen can be reached at


Next time on Cracking the Collections:

January 10 – Laura Brenskelle discusses paving her path to a career in data management and biodiversity informatics.