When Liz collected these pellets, she wasn’t sure when or how they would be used. However, she knew that changes in environmental conditions and the intensity of human activity can affect sensitive small mammal communities. She also knew that the pellets would become more valuable over time as baselines for long-term studies. In other words, if we want to ask how things are different today, we first need to know how things were in the past. Therefore, even though she didn’t have immediate plans for the pellets, she carefully preserved, cataloged, and curated them. Because of her meticulous work, 20 years later I was able to pinpoint exactly where they came from. Then, I could replicate this work today by searching for pellets in the same places she had collected them decades earlier.
In science, evidence can be used in many different ways and can be used to answer many different questions. So scientists strive to document in great detail how they collected the evidence they did and to record any additional information that a future researcher might need. After all, you never know when another researcher might want to replicate your study to see if they come up with the same results or reuse your data in a way you didn’t expect. The willingness to open up your data for others to examine is a basic tenet of science. In fact, today many scientific journals require researchers to place their data in freely available, online databases before their research article can be published. As you’ll see, over the course of my research, I reused and reanalyzed data originally collected by other people many times.