Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Revising the frog-mouthed pterosaurs: the anurognathids

If you hunt around the right bits of various websites, you can still find adverts for a book called ‘The Pterosauria’ that doesn’t exist. Conceived as a pterosaurian equivalent of the famous ‘The Dinosauria’ text book it was to have chapters devoted to each major group and some other big aspects of pterosaur biology. Originally scheduled to appear in 2009 it got put back again and again and then slowly collapsed as content failed to be produced. The ghost of it is still remains in various places where there are previews available and for many authors (including me) it was a source of colossal frustration. Months had been devoted to writing chapters that could not easily be published elsewhere as they were in specific formats and these kinds of very long and detailed species by species reviews are not accepted even by many review journals.

Thanks to Mark Witton who produced this beautiful restoration of Jeholopterus for this paper.

In my case a chapter on pterosaur origins and another on anurognathids were left languishing and a couple of attempts to resurrect them didn’t work when I ran short of time and of course they slowly became more and more out of date. However, a recent block of time appeared and I decided to dust this off and find a home for it. Much of it hadn’t dated since, well describing all the known specimens and giving a general overview of their history and anatomy was going to be the same, but there’s been an absolute flurry of anurognathid discoveries and new taxa and unnamed specimens in recent years as well as some conflicting discussions about their phylogenetic position. (You can see some of the progressions from this old blogpost I wrote in 2008 when there were only four genera known and the work that would become this paper was planned).

The anurognathids are a wonderful group of small non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs known from Europe and various parts of Asia that are perhaps the most distinctive of the early pterosaur groups and probably the latest survivors. They had bizarrely short and broad skulls made of tiny spars of bone and with few teeth and remarkably short tails for non-pterodactyloids. They were mostly small and are interpreted as having been hawking for insect prey on the wing. There are few specimens (even with the recent discoveries) that are hard to tell apart because they are all so similar and yet almost every different specimen has been named as a new species.

So they are both really unusual and not very well known and that means even if this has taken time to come to fruition, a review of them would be rather handy. And so as you might imagine, this post coincides with a new paper doing exactly that. Somewhat inevitably there’s not a huge amount to talk about here since as it’s a review, it doesn’t contain too much that’s new – the primary role is to bring things together and synthesise them so most of what is there is already known (at least to people who keep up with the pterosaur literature). Reading the review will bring you up speed if you want all the basics, but I do want to talk here about a couple of the more interesting things I have added.

The first one is the validity of the various taxa. It’s hardly unknown for pterosaur clades to be made up of lots of species each represented by only a single specimen but the anurognathids are pushing even that. While I can’t immediately think of any calls for synonymy of any taxa, the fact that so few specimens have been described in detail and the poor quality of the preservation of many means that the available lists of diagnoses have been pretty weak to date. They are not much better now, but I have at least revised and updated the diagnosis of every taxon. There are two consequences of this that are important. First off, all the current taxa seem valid, and moreover, some of the recently illustrated, but not yet named, specimens also look like they are distinct taxa and there’s probably several new names needed. Secondly, the second species of Dendrorhynchoides, D. mutodongensis is as distinct, if not more so, than many other anurognathid genera and as such needs to be elevated to the genus level.

I didn’t want to name the other putative taxa without the permission of the original describers but in this case, I named D. mutodongensis with Junchang Lu so it’s only fair game for me to sort out the naming. JC, as he was known, sadly passed away recently and he had published on multiple anuroganthid specimens so it is appropriate that in his memory I erected the new genus Luopterus to house the species. 

Next up, the variation in the different species is quite odd. Anurognathids are weirdly conservative, even compared to other pterosaur groups and while the poor preservation of the specimens hasn’t helped up find distinguishing traits between them, once you sit down and really look it’s hard to find the kinds of traits that you might normally use to separate out genera and species. That said, there are some bits of variation which while commented on before are quite notable in this context (and there is more coming on this in a future paper that I’m involved in). The length of the tail is really variable and while these are as a whole short-tailed (even the longest of them is much shorter than other non-pterodactyloids) there is really quite some difference between the longest and the shortest. I don’t know what this means but it’s an area worthy of greater attention. Similarly, the smaller anurognathids tend to have extraordinarily large heads and the larger ones rather small ones. There could be ontogentic effects here since many of the smaller specimens are juveniles but it stands in contrast with the more general isometry of other pterosaurs, and could be linked to prey sizes or even eye size. If they are, any many people suspect, nocturnal then juveniles need huge heads to house huge eyes.

The holotype of Anurognathus, the first anuroganthid

Finally, there is the issue of the ‘folded’ wings. While some disarticulation can occur in decaying pterosaurs unless the specimen has disintegrated the various bones of the wing finger stay together. Presumably they are held together by numerous strong ligaments or they would not be able to hold up the forces of flight. It’s a very derived condition since of course all other archosaurs (indeed tetrapods generally) can flex their fingers. Anurognathids however, despite having some exquisitely preserved specimens, and nearly all of them being basically articulated, show the joints of the wing finger being flexed. This suggests that they are doing something really rather different with their wings, when flying or even when on the ground. One thing to note is that this is also seen in one other set of pterosaur specimens – embryos. That implies that either anurognathids have inherited this trait from their ancestors (if they are, as some suggest, the first branching group of pterosaurs) or have secondarily acquired what is essentially a paedomorphic trait of wing flexion.

I’ll leave it there for now. There’s plenty more in the paper that you can read and there is obviously more research to come (indeed I’m working on another anurognathid paper that’s come about in part through this work) so don’t want to go over this in detail when it’s already a review. Hopefully this does sort out a few issues and pave the way for a better understanding of these most interesting of pterosaurs.

The paper is currently available online as a preprint but a final formatted version should be out soon: Hone, D.W.E. 2020. A review of the taxonomy and palaeoecology of the Anurognathidae (Reptilia, Pterosauria). Acta Geologica Sinica.

How to grow your dragon – pterosaur ontogeny

Life reconstructions of Rhamphorhynchus on display in Munich.

The giant pelagic pterosaur Pteranodon is probably the most famous, and is certainly the most iconic, of pterosaurs and specimens and casts of this show up in museums around the world. There’s something like 1100 specimens in public collection and plenty more in private hands. Unfortunately though, almost all of them a squashed very flat and they are often rather distorted and worse, the overwhelming majority are very incomplete and often composed of only a few elements. They are also almost all of a good size (‘subadult’ and up) with only one specimen recognised as being something close to juvenile in age. That means that while this is an amazing number of specimens, it’s also really quite hard to work with as the data is limited in lots of ways.

However, if we turn to Rhamphorhynchus we have only a fraction of the number of specimens but pretty much all the other issues are absent. Most specimens are complete or at least have a very healthy amount of the specimen present, they are often flat but show nothing like the distortion of Pteranodon and there are even fully 3D specimens. They also cover a near order of magnitude in size with everything for animals of c 30 cm wingspan up to nearly 2 metres and include everything from putative hatchling-sized animals to a couple of genuine outliers that are much bigger than other known individuals. Thus despite the relatively low numbers they represent and absolutely fantastic resource for studying various aspects of pterosaur biology.

The numbers of course are not tiny, well over 100 good specimens, and that alone would make them an exceptional sample of most terrestrial Mesozoic archosaurs. The legendary Solnhofen researcher Peter Wellnhofer catalogued over 100 of these in his amazing 1975 monograph on them and this dataset has become an industry standard for pterosaur research ever since. However, we are still discovering more and there are plenty sitting in various collections around the world that nave never entered the literature because, well, there’s already 100 of them out there. But even big samples are improved with the addition of more material and so for the last decade I’ve been scouring collections and databases and hunting down every specimen I can to add it to Peter’s data. That takes us from his total of 108 to 129. The ‘real’ total is actually a little lower since several of his were in private hands and two of mine are casts, though of unique specimens, and not all of these are complete. Even so, it represents a hefty increase in the available data and marks the first major increase in the catalogue in 45 years.

Obviously I’m not going to make a dataset like that and sit on it, so this post inevitably marks the publication of an analysis of growth in Rhamphorhyunchus. In a lot of ways, this mirrors Chris Bennett’s fantastic 1995 paper on this genus where he convincingly demonstrated that all specimens belonged to a single species and not multiple ones as previously thought, and part of his arguments for doing this looked at the relationships between various elements based on Wellhofer’s dataset. Chris’ point was that while there were some discreet clusters of specimens (which he attributed to year classes) most of the alleged differences between the putative species vanished when you put them on a graph and the rest were classic ontogenetic traits like the fusion of the pelvis in large individuals of big eyes in small ones. So while he didn’t really deal with growth as such, he was already showing similar patterns to what I and my coauthors confirm now – Rhamphorhynchus was weirdly isometric in growth.

In other words, in the case of the vast majority of their anatomy, young animals are basically just scaled down adults. This is a weird proposition for a terrestrial vertebrate as most undergo some quite notable and even extreme allometry with some parts proportionally growing and others shrinking as they grow. Think of young animals with big eyes, in big heads and large hands and feet, or antelope with especially spindly legs and so on. But in the pterosaurs even the smallest animals are, aside from the eyes, basically carbon copies of the adults.

Rhamphorhynchus

One of the less well preserved Rhamphorhynchus out there, it nevertheless has most elements intact

To put this in context we looked at another group of quadrupedal, powered flying vertebrates with bony spars supporting membraneous wings, the bats. Yes, obviously they are not ideal in terms of their ancestry but functionally they are about the best analogue you could get for a pterosaur. Looking at their development we see that juveniles have proportionally very small wings and right around the time they start to fly and become independent, their wings grow rapidly. This is the pattern we would expect, young animals have only so much they can invest in their development and growing wings that are not being used is what we would expect, exactly as things like sheep (and indeed dinosaurs) don’t grow their horns until they reach sexual maturity, they are not being used before then. We do though, see the bats developing their legs early as they need to grip into cave roofs and their mothers so it’s not a case of overall reduced development of limbs, but clearly selective growth.

Birds are functionally poor analogues of pterosaurs but are much closer phylogenetically and are the only other powered flying tetrapod so we also looked at some existing datasets for them too. Most birds, unsurprisingly have allometric growth of various elements, but like bats the legs develop before the wings with one notable exception, those that are hyperprecocial. Some birds like mallee fowl are capable of flying within days, or even hours of having hatched from the egg. These birds have isometric growth and this immediately then suggests that Rhamphorhynchus at least (as has been suggested before) was precocial and flying while young.

This may sound correct since if you are flying when young and flying when adult you probably want to be the same but that’s not the case. As a flying animal in particular, relying on wings to hold you up you have a problem. If you grow isometrically you wings will get longer and wider but your weight will increase much faster since you as a whole will get longer and wider and deeper. So mass will increase much faster than wing area and that can only have a profound impact on how you fly. There are two things that might offset this, first of all different animals can use different flying gaits at different sizes which might mean that performance is not quite as different as might be predicted from this (though we’d still expect juveniles to be more agile) and secondly, changes in pneumaticity. Birds increase penumaticity as they grow and there’s evidence this is the case in other pneumatic clades too and if so for pterosaurs, then the mass increase in adults would also be offset somewhat by a proportionally lower mass in adults for a given volume than juveniles.

Precociousness has been suggested in pterosaurs before based on the evidence for them flying while young, but it has also been challenged. It suggested that to be flying at that size would require a huge amount of effort and this would leave little energy for growth. That’s largely true, but overlooks that there could be post hatching parental parental care. That is normal for archosaurs (including dinosaurs) and we would expect it for pterosaurs. Being precocial in terms of the ability to move does not mean they have to be independent, things like horses have babies that are capable of running within hours of birth but are still suckled for months, and various ducks take their ducklings out to sea soon after hatching. That’s obviously not the quite same thing as the energetics of flight, but it does show that being a good locomotor is not mutually exclusive with parents protecting and feeding their offspring.

So in short, Rhamphorhynchus is perhaps the best pterosaur for large studies about populations and growth and this genius at least grew isometrically, and this may or may not be the same for other pterosaurs. This then may or may not have some big implications for pterosaur taxonomy which is often based on the ratios of various wing elements. But it does imply that young pterosaur could fly, and fly well and that adults and juveniles were probably flying in different ways to each other and that could then have implications for where and how they foraged and what they ate. This is an incremental step in our understanding of this group (and again, much of what we say has been said before but this firms things up nicely) and hopefully opens up the options for further research on them as living animals.

 

The paper is open access and available here:

Hone, D.W.E., Ratcliffe, J.M., Riskin, D.K., Hermanson, J.W. & Reisz, R.R. 2020. Unique near isometric ontogeny in the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus suggests hatchlings could fly. Lethaia.

Gharials, dinosaurs, sexual selection, dimorphism, communication and conservation

Male (above) and female (below) gharial skulls. Photo courtesy of Larry Witmer.

So, yes, new paper time and which the concept behind this one was quite simple the outcome (as is so often the case) rather spiralled out into a bunch of other, very interesting aspects. As I noted in the run up to this post, I’ve been working a lot on sexual selection and what it means for dinosaurs in particular and wanted to use gharials as the perfect model for dinosaurs but lacked a dataset on these rare animals. A chance post by Larry Witmer led me to contact him about his dataset but it turned out to be only three animals, not the dozens I’d hoped for.

It was though, enough stimulus to get me hunting and with Jordan Mallon roped in with his interest in testing these ideas we just needed to get enough data. Happily, my former undergrad student Patrick Hennessey wanted to get engaged in some research and had time on his hands, so while I e-mailed every museum curator and croc research I could asking for photos of skulls, he set off to visit every collection in the south of the UK that was accessible. Some months later and we had an incredible set of over 100 specimens. We know of more too from photos that lacked scalebars (we were unuseable) or were in museums where we couldn’t get a response from the curator, or had various bits of skin preserved which concealed key bits of data. (We also found a good few mislabelled specimens of Tomistoma while we were at it). Still, 100 is a massive dataset for this kind of work and especially for such a rare animal and this gave us an excellent platform for our analyses.

Digging into the gharial literature though we soon found other issues. Despite the fame of these animals, their rarity means the literature on them is very small and very little is known in detail or was last written about in detail decades ago. To complicate things further, the two distinctive male traits (a fossa on the snout that correlates with the ghara, and a pair of palatal bullae) have never been truly convincingly shown to be definitively male accoutrements. Happily, an analysis of the data did suggest that the fossa was clearly a male feature and the bullae most likely were too.

Moving onto the central point of the project, analysis of the dataset showed that without pre-existing evidence for a given specimen being male or female, discovering any evidence of dimorphism was very hard, even for a dataset of over 100 animals. Gharials are strongly dimorphic in body size but the overlap between larger females and smaller males across much of the data, and the unknown sex of juveniles (which shown neither fossae nor bullae) makes finding this signal impossible. This matches what Jordan and I have said in a previous paper, and suggests that short of very large datasets and / or very strong dimorphsm (even more than seen here) or very good evidence for the sex of most specimens, it will be hard to find. That means that for the average data set we have for even well-represented species of dinosaurs (well under 100 incomplete specimens, no idea of levels of dimorphism but unlikely to be well above what we see in modern species, and no data on sex) we are not going to get a signal on dimorphism even if it’s there. I’m sure dimorphism is common in dinosaurs but I’m also sure we’re not finding it.

Female (left) and male (right) gharial snouts, the latter showing the expansion of the snout and the narial fossa anterior to the opening that makes the nares. Image courtesy of Larry Witmer.

That is, of course, based on things like body size or where a feature is expressed in both sexes (as, for example, ceratopsian fills appear to be). Presence-absence dimorphism (where one sex has a feature the other does not) should still show up relatively clearly with much smaller sets of data, but we’re not aware of any species that would obviously fit this criterion. The fossil record isn’t giving up numerous horn-less Allosaurus or dome-less Pachycephalosaurus specimens and while there are things like the two Khaan specimens with different tail anatomy, it’s just those two for now rather than a nice dataset of a dozen or so. Well-known taxa like Centrosaurus and Coelophysis are distinctly lacking in obvious dimorphism.

All of this is hopefully interesting and important for understanding sexual selection in the fossil record and as a guide for future research, but this work also threw up some interesting information for the gharials themselves which is worthy of comment. First of all, we were able to show that the fossa on the snout which is the correlate for the ghara is strongly positively allometric. This is no big surprise but it’s good confirmation that this feature is under sexual selection, and conforms with the (limited) evidence that the ghara starts growing around the time that these animals become sexually mature. We also note that it likely serves as an honest signal, since it would generate tremendous drag on the tip of the snout and that’s pretty critical for an animal with a super thin and presumably hydrodynamic set of jaws used to catch fish.

Surprisingly though, the bullae don’t show this pattern. They first appear on skulls around the same time as the fossa suggesting they are also linked to reproduction, but they first appear just before the fossa. We suggest that this is because the ghara while still small, may not need a fossa to hold it onto the skull and so the ghara and bullae may start growing at the same time, but the bullae would appear on the skeleton first. The bullae are also not allometric, so while they are larger in larger males, they are not disproportionately larger. This suggest that while they are an important part of the reproductive biology (and presumably as part of the palatal sinuses, potentially in making noise) it might be there merely to indicate sexual maturity rather than be an actual attractor. Either way, these give us some hints about the reproductive biology of these animals which gives us some hypotheses to test.

One last thing we spotted is that the very largest males are quite disproportionately robust. They have unusually wide skulls (including the normally slender snout) and also have very thick teeth, with animals only 20% smaller having teeth about half as thick. To our knowledge this has not been observed before and quite what this means isn’t certain. We hypothesise that these very large individuals might either have especially strong heads and teeth for fighting each other, or perhaps because they are entering a different niche and are able to exploit much larger prey than others. Either way, this points to an important issue given how endangered gharial populations are.

Very young gharials, yet to display any external features that might indicate their sex.

With animals under strong sexual selection, a few individual males will have a disproportionate amount of the mating opportunities in a population. But those males are also likely very well adapted to the prevailing conditions. They have, essentially, a good combination of genes allowing them to grow so big and maintain such a large ghara. If they are operating in a different niche and that isn’t taken into account (they may be eating much larger fish species compared to other gharial for example) when trying to protect them and conserve their habitats, then they might be especially vulnerable. If your genetically best adapted and fittest individuals are at most risk, that’s potentially very bad news and is unlikely to be good for the long term survival and genetic health of the population. This is of course, potentially rather speculative, but it’s supported by what we understand of strong sexual selection and the observations about the largest male skulls. It’s certainly something that is worth checking out in more detail and at the bare minimum it’s an interesting observation about their ontogeny and what that might mean for our taxonomy in the fossil record.

So here ends a very long process to analyse and assess dimorphism in gharials as a model for dinosaurs. It has thrown up far more complexity and nuance, especially in the living species themselves, than I ever thought but that has been in itself most interesting. It only remains for me to thank my coauthors for their contributions on this paper, and the huge number of curators and researchers who generously checked catalogues and sent in photos for us, the paper really would not exist with them all.

Hone, D.W.E., Mallon, J.C., Hennessey, P., & Witmer, L.M. 2020. Ontogeny of a sexually selected structure in an extant archosaur Gavialis gangeticus (Pseudosuchia: Crocodylia) with implications for sexual dimorphism in dinosaurs. Peer J.

 

FLUGSAURIER 2018 Circular

At the University of Southern California and the LA County Museum, Los Angeles, USA from August 10-14, 2018.

 

Dear all,

Here are some updates and details on the upcoming conference. Apologies for the delays but things are now racing forwards. The abstracts are under review and we hope to get these back to people soon. In the meantime, here are various updates about the events and the conference.

 

Icebreaker

There will be an ice breaker coffee session and welcome address on the morning of August 10th (and not on the evening of the 9th as we’d originally hoped. If enough people are arriving on the 9th though we can arrange an informal meet up at a local venue). The first technical session will be that afternoon. On the evening of August 10th there will be a welcome social at the Traditions Bar on the USC campus.

 

Workshops

There will be two workshops, each two hours in length. Each workshop will have two chairs/moderators. They will provide opening remarks, and then the sessions will proceed primarily as a Q&A based discussion. The topics will be:

Workshop #1: A brief guide to accessing pterosaur specimens worldwide: laws, regulations, and expectations. Chaired by Taissa Rodrigues and Mike Habib.

Workshop #2: Azhdarchoid paleobiology: reviewing the latest in studies of systematics, ecology, and functional morphology. Chaired by Mike Habib and Liz Martin.

 

Accommodation

Mike is still trying to work with USC to reserve less expensive options on campus. However, this has become problematic, and his recommendation at this late stage is that delegates book other options so that they have a fallback. Many of the area hotels can be booked and cancelled without penalty (so long as cancellation is at least a week prior to arrival). The light rail network is extensive and quick and also has a station right outside the LACM and main USC campus so it should be possible to find accommodation some way from the venues that is still a relatively short and simple commute in. Some options:

The Freehand Los Angeles will run about 140 USD/night during the conference period. It is waking distance from the light rail, which will transport delegates to the conference location in about 15 minutes.

The Radisson at USC is an expensive option immediately across the street from USC. It will run about 300 USD/night.

The Vagabond Inn – Los Angeles at USC is also walking distance and runs 200 USD/night.

There are some small motels and AirBnB options in the area that run around 80 USD/night, but some are in questionable neighborhoods. We highly recommend contacting Mike if you are looking at a possible cheap lodging option and are unfamiliar with Los Angeles.

If people want to share rooms to cut costs further, we suggest they contact each other via the Facebook group. We’re happy to facilitate this.

 

Palaeoart exhibition

We will be hosting a paleoartist exhibition on the USC campus, and there will be a combined art and poster session for Q&A and informal discussion with the artists. We will have a projector for playing videos and animations available.

 

Specimen viewing

On August 13th, we will have a specimen viewing event, collections tour, and exhibit hall tour at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, hosted by Dr Luis Chiappe. There will be a lunch provided. Tours will take place after lunch. There will be time to browse the museum exhibits as well.

 

Field Trip

On August 14th, we will be taking a field trip to the Alf Museum in Claremont, CA. There will be new pterosaur material available for viewing, collections tours given by Dr Andy Farke, and information on local geology of interest. Those extending their stay may wish to visit some of the local Mesozoic formations. Transpiration to the Alf will be by coach, leaving at 7:30AM, return time TBC.

 

Introducing the Queen Mary Biological Collection

A year or so after I joined queen Mary, I discovered a fairly extensive, and also effectievly abandonned collection of specimens in various storage sites in the department. We have pressed plants, fossils, casts, models, skeletons, dried skins, pickled animals, drawings and more. It’s virtually a miniature museum, but all of it uncatalogued, unsorted and unlabeled. It was pretty soon clear that there were some real gems, a lake Baikal seal skeleton, a whale fetus, several tuataras, casts of the holotype of Pterodactylus and the Berlin Archaeopteryx, some rare seeds and plenty more.

I applied to the university’s Westfield fund for student development and this was happily granted, giving me some funds to work with. So for the last couple of summers I’ve been getting my students to help work out what things are, repair and preserve them and critically, to catalogue them. We now have a provisional database up and running and a photo index of every specimen. It needs work to check for some errors and we also have more still to add but the basics are there.

Critically, I want this to be used for research as well as making thios accessible for teaching. We already have loaned a number of specimens out to colleagues and others have been photographed or measured for papers and I hope that’s only the start. If you want access to anything, please let me know. We have been using the code QMBC for Queen Mary Biological Collection and given my work, you can see why I picked the specimen I did for QMBC 0001.

CATALOGUE

PHOTOS

 

 

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Citations of lists – a small moan

I used to do this sort of thing a lot on this blog but with the posts generally slowing it has become rather more rare (for better or worse, most readers would likely go for better I imagine) but it’s time for a moan. This is something I have seen before but recently I’ve had a whole spate of papers to review that do this and it seemed something annoying and common enough to put out publicly so that a) hopefully people will agree with me and b) then some will stop doing it.

This is about points in papers were a big long list appears in the text but then all the citations come at the end. So you get something like ‘…as seen in Tyrannosaurus, Tarbosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Albertasaurus and Zhuchengtyrannus (Smith et al., 1994; Jones, 2001; Smith and Jones, 2005, 2007; Smith and Smith, 2016, 2017).

At best this is annoying and at worst actively cryptic about information. In my example there are six taxa and six papers so you can assume that they realte to these taxa in order, but even if they do, it’s a slight pain to work out exactly which paper refers to which one. I’ve seen examples like this with a dozen papers and then you really do have to move your finger along and count to try and work out which is which. Even so, this assumption may not be true – are those papers certainly in the right order? The only way you can find out or to check is to go and read each to follow it through. The point of citations is a paper trail of what you did and where you got the information from and to credit it correctly. So this list in this format is actually making you redo the work of the author and is hardly something that actually helps communicate information.

Worse, I regularly see such lists have different numbers of points to the number of references given. That means that at least some points are covered by a single reference (if they are more numerous) or multiple points are covered in one reference (if there are more points), but again, it’s impossible to know which is which. You are back to having to reread each paper to check.

In short, for the apparent sake of making a list look slightly nicer on the page, the information the reader often wants, even needs (which paper does or does not directly refer to which of those things in the list, be they taxa, anatomical features, localities or whatever) is obscured. Now, I do get that this easier on the eye to read than say ‘Tyrannosaurus,(Smith et al., 1994),  Tarbosaurs (Jones, 2001),but personally I don’t find that an issue, I’ve read enough papers to skim over references while reading without a problem. More importantly, it is perfectly clear exactly which paper refers to which point and so is far superior to a big lump of papers are the end.

If it’s not immediately clear, it can’t immedaitely be verified and you may have to wade through a large number of references to check. This is hardly the end of times, but for me this really helps neither the author show that they have done what they set out to or the reader follow that up. And so really, please, please, cut out the lists followed by a list of references. Authors don’t do it and referees and editors, pick up on it and ask people to make specific points supported by specific references.

Flugsaurier 2018 deadline extended

The LA Flugsaurier meeting is creeping closer and we are working hard to get everything in place. However, as sure as night follows day, people are behind on their abstracts so we have decided to extend the abstract submission deadline by a week! The new deadline is April 9 (not 2nd!).

Keep up with new information and deadlines on the Facebook group or the conference website.

Flugsaurier 2018 Circular

This has been in the works for too long but we do now have a formal first cicular for Flugsaurier 2018. The abstract submission date is but 6 weeks away, but then you should have known about this conference from 3 years out… 🙂

 

Flugsaurier 2018: Los Angeles
The 6th International Symposium on Pterosaurs: First Circular

Welcome to Los Angeles

We invite all individuals working on, or interested in, pterosaur biology or associated geosciences to submit abstracts for the 2018 Flugsaurier meeting in Los Angeles, CA, USA. The meeting will be held August 10-14 at the University of Southern California and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Please mark your calendars for what we are sure will be an exciting meetinng!

Current  Calendar:

all events at USC, except Welcome Reception/Specimen Viewing and Field Trip

August 10th: Ice Breaker at USC (AM) and aRernoon technical sessions
August 11th: Technical Session; Welcome Recepion and Specimen Viewing at NHMLA
August 12th: Technical Session (AM); Workshops (PM); Paleoart Exhibition
August 13th: Technical Session (AM); Workshops (PM); Conference Dinner (PM)
August 14th: Field Trip (TBD)

Notes: The NHMLA is located adjacent to the main campus of USC. The Conference Dinner loca4on is TBD, but we expect to use a venue either on the USC campus or in nearby Downtown Los Angeles. The Field Trip costs will be included in the registraion. We hope to arrange a trip to the Moreno Formation of California.

Abstract Information
Abstracts have a limit of 500 words with up to 3 references (Harvard format) and 1 figure.
For details, or to determine if abstracts meet criteria, please contact Michael Habib:
habibm@usc.edu. Abstracts can be submi]ed here. We will accept mul?ple submissions from authors but only one talk per lead author. Abstracts will be reviewed. We cannot guarantee speaker or poster slots. Abstracts submissions are due by midnight, Pacific Time, on March 26th. EDIT: Deadline extended – the new deadline is April 9th.

Host Committee:
Host committee will also be the review committee for all abstract submissions Michael Habib (Chair), Brent Breithaupt, Nathan Carroll, David Hone, Lu Junchang, Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone, Taissa Rodrigues.
Special Thanks goes to Luis Chiappe for hosting the NHMLA components of the program.

Travel Information

Accommodations:
The closest hotel is the Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Midtown at USC. Rooms at this hotel
average 178 USD per night: https://www.radisson.com/los-angeles-hotel-ca-90007
Less expensive options can be found in some parts of Downtown Los Angeles. The American Hotel often has rooms for 85 USD per night: http://www.americanhotella.com/. The hotel is walking distance from a light rail sta?on, from which rail travel to USC and the NHMLA is approximately 10-12 minutes.

We are currently working with USC to secure some low-cost housing on campus. We expect this to be limited and available mostly to students. More informa?on about on-campus housing will follow as soon as it is confirmed.

Travel to Los Angeles:
The closest airport to the conference venue is Los Angeles International (LAX). However,
travelers can also fly into Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) or Long Beach Airport (LGB). LAX runs regular buses to Union Sta?on, from which light rail can be taken to Downtown Los Angeles and USC.
Note that travel to the United States for a conference typically requires a B Class Visitor Visa, unless the port of origin is part of the Visa Waiver Program. For details on Visitor Visa applications, and to determine if your country of origin is associated with a VWP, please check here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/business.html

Natural Histroy Museums of LA County:
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the largest natural and historical museum in the western United States. Its collections include nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts and cover 4.5 billion years of history. The NHMLA houses an extensive collection of specimens from the Niobrara Chalk and Pierre Shale, including a sizeable collection of Pteranodon specimens and one of the few partial skeletons of Nyctosaurus. In 2016, the NMHLA hosted Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs, from the AMNH.

Other Area Museums:
Alf Museum, Claremont CA: The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, located on the
campus of The Webb Schools, houses extensive vertebrate fossil collections, including multiple excellent pterosaur specimens. It is the only nationally accredited museum in the USA on a high school campus. The Alf Museum provides a unique research program for Webb students where they study fossils they find on collec?ng trips and publish the results of their research in collaboration with museum staff, a unique program for secondary school students.
Tar Pits Museum, Los Angeles CA: Part of the LACM system of museums (along with the
NHMLA), the Tar Pits Museum in Los Angeles has one of the largest Pleistocene collections in the world. Active excavation continues throughout the year on the grounds of the museum, which is located in the Miracle Mile district.

 

The official website to keep an eye on is this one: https://flugsaurier2018.wordpress.com/

 

Sexual selection: patterns in the history of life

Longtime reads will know I have a huge interest in sexual selection and what that might mean for the evolution of all kinds of features (horns, crests, colours, feathers) in various archosaurs. In an effort to explore this further and help make new research connections, I have got together with Rob Knell and Doug Emlen to arrange a small meeting on this through the Royal Society. This will take place on the 9th and 10th of May next year jsut outside London.

The speaker list is fantastic and includes palaeontologists, modellers, theorists and people who link between those disciplines and with interests in dinosaurs, birds, insects, mammals and other clades. In short, this should least to a wide ranging discussion and opportunities for people to put some ideas out get and get collaborations and research going in major new directions.

Attendance is free (though there are costs for accommodation and food) but you will need to register and places may be limited. All of the details of the meeting are here including the speaker list. We hope to also run a poster session for non-speakers too.

 

 

Write me a review!

Calling all my fellow academics, I am the new Reviews Editor for the Journal of Zoology and as a result I’m on the lookout for review papers that cover any aspect of whole organism biology (behaviour, ecology, taxonomy, evolution, anatomy and many other aspects). The journal has a good track record of covering palaeo topics (including dinosaur combat, display, trilobite diversity) so it’s not all about fluffy mammals.

I think reviews are important to science and provide a great platform for state-of-the-art updates, for people entering new fields (including students) and for steering debates or having new ideas put out there. They are also, I think, often a great paper to write as part of a PhD – they might not be REF-able, but give you a chance to get to grips with a subject and are often highly cited. In short, if you have an idea for a review you are likely to find me a sympathtic ear with a possible opening for you.

In particular I’m keen to reach out beyond the regular readers here, so do please pass on the gist of this message to people far and wide, especially in the biological / invertebrate divisions where I know far fewer people that the dinosaur / vertebrate community.

Tenth Anniversary Post

This blogpost is in fact a bit late since this date passed on the 7th of September, but I have now been blogging for a full decade. The archives here do not quite reach back that far, but very long time readers will know that I first started on the now defunct DinoBase pages (though these are available on some internet archive sites) hence the apparent gap.

I don’t want this post to turn into a long ramble about all of my posts and things I have got done, how I got blogging and so on, (this is after all covered in various places), but this seemed too big a milestone to ignore. I’m really not sure when I started all of this, how long I thought I might keep going for, but I doubt it would have included a guess of anything like ten years.

Back then I was still on my first postdoc with no guarantee of employment in another year or so, let alone an academic career and I was already running Ask A Biologist which was a massive outreach project in its own right. If I’d thought about it, I think I would have considered five years to be a big but achievable target and while I’m hardly going at the rate I once was, to still be going is something I’m rather proud of.

That really is it, just a post to mark the passing of the event. The blog will continue, slowly, as things progress and topics come up that I still want to talk about or are relevant. I doubt that I will still be going in 2027, but that in some ways doesn’t seem too far away or too unlikely. Time will clearly tell but I’m not stopping any time soon.


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