I’m in Berlin. I’ve just managed to find a chicken donner kebab, and am pausing research briefly to write this. I’m currently on leave from London, with a ridiculously hectic couple of months ahead: I’ve just been to Munich to see a dwarf crocodile specimen, Alligatorellus beaumonti (from Bavaria), which conveniently happened to coincide with Oktoberfest, and am now here to visit another specimen, Theriosuchus ibericus, from Spain. Preliminary glances at the material in Berlin makes me think the Spanish material may be a new genus altogether (whatever that actually means), and another broken up specimen of Alligatorellus might be a new species, based on what I can tell from it’s body armour (yeah, these crocs were awesome!)
Alligatorellus beaumonti, holotype specimen. Copyright: Bavarian State Collection, Munich
Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal) is an annual event where early career researchers get to demonstrate their research to an equivalent audience in a reasonably informal atmosphere. It’s also renowned as a mega p*ss-up, as everyone knows palaeontologists are chronic alcoholics (hence the dinosaurs with feathers hypothesis). This year, it was in the vibrant and cosmopolitan northern UK city of Leeds. Some of the research communicated there was pretty freaking sweet. You can find recordings of all of the talks on Palaeocast (at some point in the future), and the Twitter feed was #progpal if you want to see a historical live version of the event.
How can the dead help the living? This is a question a lot of fossil-fanatics have bent a lot of time towards over recent years, partially due to a desire to make palaeontology ‘relevant’ as a modern science, and secondly to help guide our efforts in conservation biology. A new series, edited by my supervisor Dr. Phil Mannion and others, focusses on the way we interpret palaeobiodiversity, biodiversity in the fossil record, for different groups and the issues and solutions facing the field. The final article in the volume struck me in particular.
How can fossils help us to protect these now and in the future? Source.
My PhD consists of two parts. The first is investigating the dynamics of biodiversity across the Jurassic/Cretaceous interval about 145 million years ago. I want to see if when we consider the biases of the fossil record whether there was a ‘hidden’ mass extinction, and what were the ecological, physiological or environmental factors that correspond to this. This involves looking at turtles, birds, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles and any other tetrapod group at the time – that’s anything with four feet, flippers or wings (see previous post for an update on all this jazz).
Evolutionary relationships of major tetrapod groups – many extinct, and many still with us today! Source.
How do you tell between different dinosaurs, when you don’t have any dinosaurs? Trace fossils, like footprints, are ghosts of dinosaurs past, remnants of life entombed within the rocks. Palaeontologists and ichnologists (scientists who study trace fossils, not fish) often used to get confused by the question of matching a dinosaur track to its maker. Dinosaur tracks are known from multiple localities all around the globe, but figuring out exactly which dinosaurs made them, or even what type of dinosaur, has always been a mystery. How do you tell the difference? A classic example of this uncertainty is between the tracks of ornithopod and theropod dinosaurs – both groups walked on two feet (bipedal, mostly – some ornithopods were variably quadrupedal), had the same size ranges, were clawed, and had three front toes (mostly). This means that often, the trackways looked quite similar, not just in terms of gross morphology, but also in the stride length, which tells us about how fast an animal was moving at the time.
Sometimes, the trackmaker can be a little easier to identify.. Source