New Year’s Update (January 2017)

What are we?
A virtual museum and archive for researcher-contributed 3D data representing natural history objects, primarily funded by Duke University.

We’ve grown a lot in the last couple years.

  • 3,311 registered users from 84 countries around the world.
  • 231 data projects.
  • 19,000 digital datasets representing 5,000 specimens of 1,000 species from 125 institutions.

And the community is using the site:

  • 380,000 visits.
  • MorphoSource links and citations have appeared in Nature, Nature Scientific Data, PloS One, Journal of Human Evolution, Current Biology, eLife, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Paleontologica Electronica, Biodiversity Data Journal, PeerJ, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: B, Journal of Paleontology, Journal of Mammalian Evolution, Fishery Bulletin, and more.


  1. To provide unprecedented access to the internal and external anatomy of specimens from the world’s universities and natural history institutions by serving them as 3D digital datasets online.
  2. To provide researchers with a venue for archiving and sharing the 3D data they collect for their published research in the interest of helping them better document their work and meet the requirements of open access science, while maximizing the downstream utility of those data by maintaining them in a data schema that emulates the organization a physical repository.
  3. To align the career interests of scientists with the goals of science by providing a venue where researchers can get scholarly credit for sharing their data.
  4. To magnify the impact of museum holdings and researcher 3D data on society at large by allowing the public to access this archive for education and personal growth.

Data of interest on MorphoSource
As the site was started by Evolutionary Anthropologists, many of the original datasets represent primates, however we have a growing collection of everything from birds, to centipedes, to dinosaurs. Here are some highlights to get you started. Go to the site to see what else you can find!

Primates and close relatives

Carnivores Rodents & Insectivores Ungulates Pre-therian mammals and mammal-like reptiles
  • The skull of Vintana from Madagascar contributed by D. Krause
  • Skulls of Thrinaxodon from South Africa
Archosaurs Herps Fishes Invertebrates

What’s great about MorphoSource

  1. For downloaders, the archive is designed to be efficient and intuitive for finding datasets of interest based on taxonomy, anatomical region, data type, or bibliography (in addition to other categories).
  2. For contributors, the ability to share data with different levels of access: Data can be published with restricted download access so that data owners can verify their approval of re-use intentions before releasing the data. This is good researchers who have data from museums that control third party permissions.
  3. For contributors, the ability to track every download (regardless of access level) as well as the intended use of each download to build evidence of the ‘value’ of their data for research and outreach
  4. For developing research, data projects can be privately shared only among specified groups of collaborators who add to and use them
  5. For everyone, the generation of GUID’s and DOI’s for each dataset on the site, allowing unambiguous reference of data sources in publications. Datasets with DOI’s can also build formal impact factors

What’s new on MorphoSource

  1. Private sharing of a single media groups between individual users.
  2. Exportable search results, including stats on media downloads and use cases for any published media files. To use this just type in search terms (e.g., “skull reptile” or “AMNH”) and then click the ‘export results’ link.
  3. Hierarchical taxonomic browsing via linkages with Vertnet
  4. API with data dictionary and Darwin Core mapping
  5. Lots of new datasets (see above).
  6. When uploading datasets to MorphoSource, they can be formally attributed to an existing MorphoSource media group when appropriate, regardless of ownership.

Planned upgrades for MorphoSource in 2017

  1. Interoperability with iDigBio
  2. A larger breadth of accepted file formats
  3. Autoparsing of CT scanner metadata sheets
  4. Auto-generation of citation shoulders to accompany data doi’s and urls.
  5. 3D viewing of volume files in-browser

More questions?

  • Visit the site at and look under ‘about’ for user and contributor guides as well as definitions of terms.
  • Also coming soon is the following publication with detailed descriptions of all aspects of the site:
    Boyer DM, Gunnell GF, Kaufman S, & McGeary T (in press) MorphoSource - Archiving and Sharing Digital Specimen Data. Journal of Paleontology.