For you osteology buffs out there, I want to let you know about the Digital Morphology database, if you don’t already know about it. I actually didn’t know about it myself, until I read about an extinct platyrrhine, Tremacebus harringtoni, from Afarensis’ ‘know your primate‘ periodical. The Digital Morphology (DigiMorph) database currently has about 400 species listed. If you are wondering what the database specializes in, I think the name should give you a clue as well as my shout-out to all y’all osteologists… but here’s a more formal introduction from their website,
“Digital Morphology library is a dynamic archive of information on digital morphology and high-resolution X-ray computed tomography of biological specimens. Browse through the site and see spectacular imagery and animations and details on the morphology of many representatives of the Earth’s biota.”
This database is brought to you by the University of Texas at Austin, and is an excellent execution of organization and quality, structured content. I personally love this resource. I see it as a supplement to many fields.
I also personally appreciate it because I like to see biological data be shared freely. Databases like Genbank have paved the way for natural scientists and medical professionals to share genomic data and sequences. But their data is relatively more easy to share. Agreeing upon a uniform structure to share sequence data is straight-forward – a sequence is a sequence is a sequence. It’s really kinda hard to mess up sharing raw-text data.
But, databases that specialize in phenotypes or physical characteristics of living things have proved to be more challenging. Agreeing upon uniform data fields has become one of the major challenges because there is sooo much variation. If you think about, the only fields we could effectively really categorize some living things are the major distinctions between the three major domains. Secondly, is the logistical aspects of it. Many ways we could gather phenotypic data is locked away in many museums and institutions. Some have restricted access, and to overcome the bureaucratic loopholes to get access to a skeleton is almost as hard as agreeing upon a way to structure the database. Another logistical challenge is how to document the phenotype. Photographs may seem logical, but they aren’t. First come image resolution and photographic skills. These variables can ultimately affect quality control.
And that’s where the DigiMorph’s X-ray tomography comes in. Data is totally digital and uniform. It is not related to how the photographer stages the specimen nor the quality of the camera used.
So, I’m pretty sure you are wondering, after all this blabbering and cheerleading I have done, of what importance is this to you as someone interested in primatology?
Well, if you study functional anatomy, how an animal’s body form relates to its function in life, this database is for you… especially if you do not have access to a laboratory with comparative samples! For example, you can analyze the sexual dimorphisms between a male and female tufted capuchin skulls on your own computer. I’ve plucked two lateral views of each skull for you to give it a run. Ask yourselves what differences do you see between the male and female skull? If you can make these observation I think you can see how this database is pretty nifty — cuts out the hours spent with a caliper and sketching bones out in a lab that may not have what you need!
Anyways, I hope you also find DigiMorph useful. If you want to browse their primate collection, their mammals category seems to be the deepest taxonomic level to get to the monkeys, apes, tarsiers, etc.