Paleontologists Abroad

Every year, paleontologists from around the world converge on an unexpecting city to share research, make new connections, and unite with old friends at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) annual meeting.  This year’s meeting was in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) – a stronghold in Canadian paleontology.  Six current students and two recent alumni from the Department of Geosciences at FHSU joined our Curator of Paleontology Dr. Laura Wilson at the conference. Like most professional conferences, the SVP annual meeting is filled with poster presentations and technical talks, workshops and field trips, exhibitors showcasing the latest technologies and resources, and roundtables and luncheons for subsets of the society tackling specific issues (for example: the Women in Paleontology luncheon and student roundtable).

New research always takes the limelight, and most of the FHSU representatives in attendance presented original research.  We have been working hard to make the Sternberg Museum a leader in Western Interior Seaway research.  The Western Interior Seaway is the ocean that covered Kansas and most of the interior of North America from roughly 100 to 66 million years ago – these are the fossils that fill our exhibit galleries, education collections, and research collections. Presentations by Sternberg Museum students and staff showcased research on marine animals from the Seaway. Third year graduate student Cyrus Green presented research on the internal bone structure of Clidastes mosasaurs; second year graduate students Pike Holman and Amber Michels presented on determining age in Dolichorhynchops pliosaurs and determine the trophic ecology of Cretaceous fishes, respectively. Recent alumni Kris Super and Logan King presented on the smallest specimen of Xiphactinus fish ever reported, and Curator Laura Wilson presented on what we know about the ecology of the Seaway based on seabird fossils.

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The other highlight of the conference is catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances.  Fort Hays State University students and alumni in attendance always make the time to get together for lunch and take a photo.  The 2017 meeting was no exception!

 

#2013SVP

From October 30 to November 2, paleontologists from around the world came together for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting. Professors, curators, students, and other paleo aficionados descended upon the unsuspecting city of Los Angeles, California.  Conferences are always a fun and exciting mix of hot-off-the-press science, visiting with old friends, making new connections, developing new research projects, and late night schmoozing. 
This year, Fort Hays State University and the Sternberg Museum were well-represented by students, faculty, and staff. Seven graduate students from the Department of Geosciences attended SVP, including Kelsie Abrams, Tom Buskuskie, Josh Fry, Seth Hammond, Mackenzie Kirchner-Smith, Melissa Macias, and Ian Trevethan.  Undergraduate paleo student Jason Hughes and his guide dog, Indie, also joined the motley crew. Geosciences professor and Sternberg curator Dr. Laura Wilson, Sternberg education director David Levering, and Biological sciences professor Dr. Chris Bennett rounded out the Hays contingent.
Fort Hays State paleontologists at the LA County Museum welcome reception at SVP.
(L to R: Josh Fry, Melissa Macias, Ian Trevethan, Laura Wilson, Mackenzie Kirchner-Smith, Tom Buskuskie, Jason Hughes, Kelsie Abrams)

SVP conferences are filled with scientific talks by top minds in the field, followed by afternoon poster sessions for more discussions on new research.  Evenings allow for a time to take scientific conversations and catching up with friends into a more casual atmosphere. Many of us were there not only to learn, but to educate as well.  Ian presented a poster on preliminary results from his Master’s project: “Thermoregulatory status of mosasaurs from the Western Interior Seaway of Kansas, USA”. Mackenzie and Melissa both had poster presentations showcasing undergraduate research projects completed at Indiana University and UC Santa Barbara, respectively. In her research, Mackenzie used modern analogs to help study fossils. Her poster explained “Hind limb morphology of carnivorous birds: A morphometic analysis of prey preference and predatory techniques“.  Melissa brought us into the world of giant ground sloths with a poster on “New Pleistocene megafauna localities in Santa Barbara County, California: Paleontological reconnaissance of the marine terrace deposits at Vandenberg Air Force Base.”

David gave a talk on his Master’s research from Oklahoma State University, “Of multituberculates and mass extinction: Evidence of selection for small body size within the Cimolodonta (Multituberculata) across the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction boundary, followed by morphospace recovery and expansion in the earliest Paleogene”.  A mouthful, but an interesting look at body size change in a group of mammals during the extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs (or at least the dinosaurs that weren’t birds).  Lastly, Dr. Bennett presented a poster on the enigmatic pterosaurs, “Reinterpretation of the wings of Pterodactylus antiquus based on the Vienna specimen”.
Another noteworthy event at this year’s conference was in the awards ceremony. Every year at the award’s banquet that closes the conference, SVP gives out research grants and awards of recognition to students, paleo-artists, and professions alike. One of these is the Romer-Simpson Medal, “awarded for sustained and outstanding scholarly excellence in the discipline of Vertebrate Paleontology”.  This is the society’s highest award. This year’s Romer-Simpson medal was awarded to Dr. Jack Horner, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. This hits particularly close to home because Jack was Dr. Laura Wilson Master’s advisor and mentor since entering the field of paleontology. Laura and her students (technically, Jack’s grand-students) have a huge legacy to live up to and pass on to the next generation of scientists. 

Dr. Jack Horner with some of his former and current students after receiving the Romer-Simpson Medal at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting.
Between presentations on cutting edge science, discussions with colleagues, student recruitment, catching up with old friends, making new friends, gorging on ethnic food, and visiting local museums, SVP 2013 was a successful meeting for all! I hope everyone is starting to save for SVP 2014 in Berlin, Germany!

ISPH 2013 – Inside fossil bones and teeth

Last week was the Second International Symposium on Paleohistology (ISPH.2013), hosted by the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.  Histology – the study of tissue – is a growing field in paleontology and is infiltrating all aspects of paleontological research. Paleontologists, specifically, study bone and tooth tissue of fossil and modern organisms.  Bone histology directly relates to the growth dynamics of an organism and helps researchers better understand the evolutionary history, development and maturation, and life history of extinct animals. This conference brought together some of the top researchers in the field of paleohistology – everyone from those who established the field decades ago, to the rising stars, to the students just beginning their scientific careers. As the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology grows larger and larger, these smaller, topical conferences seem to be growing in popularity and abundance, as they provide exceptional opportunities to develop projects, share research, and connect without other people in specific subfields. ISPH is no exception and was a fantastic conference with an international line-up of talks and productive break-out sessions; key-note talks were given by Dr. Jack Horner (Museum of the Rockies/Montana State University) and Dr. Jorge Cubo (Université Pierre et Marie Curie – Sorbonne Universités – Paris). Just check out the talk and poster titles!

Adelie penguins have the most northern
(highest latitude) distribution of the three
Pygoscelis species

The paleontology department at the Sternberg Museum and Fort Hays State University was represented by a talk by Dr. Laura Wilson, co-authored by Dr. Karen Chin (University of Colorado, Boulder/University of Colorado Museum of Natural History), entitled: “Effects of Environment and Behavior on Bone Growth Patterns in Pygoscelis Penguins“.  The talk focused on analyzing the bone growth dynamics of living Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins in light of climatic, biogeographic, and migration parameters.  Focusing on a modern group of birds, this research provides insight into some of the factors (as well as complications) that needs to be considered when analyzing and interpreting growth patterns. This is a key factor to consider when studying extinct organisms (particularly avian and non-avian dinosaurs), so is highly applicable to paleontological research. 

This is just the beginning of histology research at the Sternberg Museum and FHSU, as we are in the process of setting up our own histology lab where we can produce and analyze our own fossil and modern bone specimens.  We look forward to continued analysis, student research, and intercollegiate and international collaborations into the future!