PaleoCore Project

Data Integration and Data Management for Paleoanthropology

Starting in 2012 I have served as the director for the PaleoCore Project. PaleoCore is an NSF funded informatics initiative to 1) develop data standards for paleoanthropology, 2) tools for digitial data collection and 3) a repository for collaboratively storing and managing data by research teams and museums. The future of paleoanthropology as a science requires a transition towards greater integration and synthesis of data across multiple domains of expertise (e.g. geology, paleontology, climatology) and across multiple research teams working in different geographic areas. Accomplishing this requires we develop standards to consolidate how we collect and represent data as well as better tools for collaboratively collecting and manging data in the field and in the lab (Reed et al. 2015). PaleoCore also serves as the primary data repository and data management infrastructure for the African Rift Valley Research Consortium (ARVR), a collection of research projects committed to sharing and integrating data about the fossils from the Pliocene of East Africa.

PaleoCore: Data management for paleoanthropology.
Nature Cover
Selam featured on the cover of Nature in 2006.

Dikika Research Project

Early human evolution in Ethiopia.

I have been working in the Afar region of Ethiopia since 2002, first at the site of Dikika more recently at our new site, Mille-Logya. Dikika became famous for the discovery of 'Selam', (Alemseged et al., 2006) a juvenile skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis, the same species as the well-known 'Lucy' skeleton from across the Awash River at the site of Hadar. Selam is remarkable for preserving delicate parts of the skeleton that do not normally survive the fossilization process, such as the complete skull, scapula, hyoid, ribs, and articulated vertebrae. It is also remarkable for being a juvenile individual, probably less than three yeears old, when she died. Watch Zeray's TED conference presentation about Selam.

Micromammal Spatial Ecology

Spatial Ecology in the Serengeti - Masai Mara Ecosystem

For my dissertation (Reed, 2003) I lived 18 months in the Serengeti National Park (mid 1998 - 2000) in northern Tanzania conducting research on the structure of woodland and grassland ecosystem and how they influence the distribution of mammal communities there, especially small mammals such as rodents and insectivores. To quickly assess the patterns of biodiversity in Serengeti, I collected dense bone assemblages from owl roosts and identified the remains. Owls are avid predators of small mammals and routinely digest the entirety of their prey, then regurgitate the bones, fur and other hard parts in a compact pellet. Over time these pellets accumulate beneath the nesting and roosting sites of owls and provide an excellent (and rapid) measure of local biodiversity (usually what lives withing 1 km of the roost or nest) (Reed, 2005). The data on small mammal community patterns provides the necessary baseline data for interpreting community composition in fossil assemblages. By studying the dynamics of modern ecosystems from the perspective of palenotology we can strengthen in inferences we make about the past from fossil assemblages (Reed, 2011). This type of work is often referred to as middle-range research, research that links modern processes to traces from the past.

Me (right) collecting pellet samples from a tree cavity in Serengeti with help from Joseph Masoy (left).
Vegetation map of the Serengeti - Masai Mara ecosystem

Vegetation Modeling

Vegetation structure in modern savanna ecosystems.

A large component of my dissertation research (Reed, 2003) included spatial analysis (GIS) of environmental gradients in the Serengeti ecosystem and their influence on vegetation structure and the related effects on mammalian species distributions. Teaming up with several scientists working in Serengeti, we produced a comprehensive vegetation map of the ecosystem from Landsat satellite imagery (Reed et al. 2009). The study of modern savanna ecosystems plays a critical role in understanding paleoenvironments and the ecological context of human evolution. This research is also important for understanding the impacts of global climate change, and for effective management and conservation in the Serengeti.

Grotte de Contrebandiers

Archaeozoology on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

Grotte de Contrebandiers (Smuggler's Cave) preserves Middle Stone Age and Aterian artefacts. The Aterian is a stone tool culture spread throughout the Maghreb but it is poorly understood. I worked with Harold Dibble and others at Contrebandiers to understand the origin and context of the Aterian relative to African Middle Stone Age sites and to the Middle Paleolithic in Europe (Dibble et al. 2012, 2013). My work focuses on archaezoological analysis of the micromammals from Contrebandiers and their implications for past environments at the site (Reed and Barr, 2010).

Aterian artifacts from Morocco.
A. Kay Behrensmeyer photographing bone scatter at Amboseli.

Amboseli Taphonomy

The process of fossilization in a savanna ecosystem.

Taphonomy is the study of how bones become fossils. Kay Behrehnsmeyer has been researching taphonomy in savanna landscapes for many years. Working with Kay and others in Amboseli I have been exploring the fate of small mammal remains accumulated by both mammalian and avian predators. Working with Josh Miller, we have examined the degree of fidelity that large and small mammal communities have in representing the functional components of ecosystems (Miller et al. 2014). Currently I'm working with a graduate student on assessing what the effects and differences are between assemblages created by avian predators (e.g. owls) vs. mammalian predators (e.g. civits).