Inferring the age and environmental characteristics of fossil sites using citizen science

Tara Djokic, Michael Frese, Adam Woods, Mary Dettmann, Paul Flemons, Frank Brink, Matthew R McCurry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Not all fossil sites preserve microfossils that can be extracted using acid digestion, which may leave knowledge gaps regarding a site’s age or environmental characteristics. Here we report on a citizen science approach that was developed to identify microfossils in situ on the surface of sedimentary rocks. Samples were collected from McGraths Flat, a recently discovered Miocene rainforest lake deposit located in central New South Wales, Australia. Composed entirely of iron-oxyhydroxide, McGraths Flat rocks cannot be processed using typical microfossil extraction protocols e.g., acid digestion. Instead, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to automatically acquire 25,200 high-resolution images from the surface of three McGraths Flat samples, covering a total area of 1.85 cm 2. The images were published on the citizen science portal DigiVol, through which 271 citizen scientists helped to identify 300 pollen and spores. The microfossil information gained in this study is biostratigraphically relevant and can be used to constrain the environmental characteristics of McGraths Flat. Our findings suggest that automated image acquisition coupled with an evaluation by citizen scientists is an effective method of determining the age and environmental characteristics of fossiliferous rocks that cannot be investigated using traditional methods such as acid digestion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0284388
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2023


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