Digitizing extant bat diversity: An open-access repository of 3D μCT-scanned skulls for research and education

Jeff J. Shi, Erin P. Westeen, Daniel L. Rabosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Biological specimens are primary records of organismal ecology and history. As such, museum collections are invaluable repositories for testing ecological and evolutionary hypotheses across the tree of life. Digitizing and broadly sharing the phenotypic data from these collections serves to expand the traditional reach of museums, enabling widespread data sharing, collaboration, and education at an unprecedented scale. In recent years, μCT-scanning has been adopted as one way for efficiently digitizing museum specimens. Here, we describe a large repository of 3D, μCT-scanned images and surfaces of skulls from 359 extant species of bats, a highly diverse clade of modern vertebrates. This digital repository spans much of the taxonomic, biogeographic, and morphological diversity present across bats. All data have been published to the MorphoSource platform, an online database explicitly designed for the archiving of 3D morphological data. We demonstrate one potential use of this repository by testing for convergence in skull shape among one particularly diverse group of bats, the superfamily Noctilionoidea. Beyond its intrinsic utility to bat biologists, our digital specimens represent a resource for educators and for any researchers seeking to broadly test theories of trait evolution, functional ecology, and community assembly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0203022
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.J.S. and D.L.R. were funded by the National Science Foundation’s (USA) Division of Environmental Biology (https://www.nsf.gov/div/ index.jsp?div=DEB), under grant NSF DEB-1501304. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors would like to thank NT Katlein, MA Lynch, CW Thompson, and HL Williams for their support in data management and collection. JJS would also like to thank CV Avena, AA Curtis, M Kirijo, KA Speer, and LR Yohe for numerous helpful discussions about bats and their diversity, and GE Gerstner for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. All 3D data are archived on and accessible from MorphoSource, as described in this manuscript (https://www.morphosource.org/Detail/ProjectDetail/Show/project_id/386). All landmark data are accessible from the Dryad repository.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Shi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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