Saturday, September 9, 2017

SVP 2017

Another SVP has come and gone, this time slightly earlier in the year than we're accustomed to. This year's meeting took place in Calgary and, as one might expect, its location provided many exciting field trip opportunities. Exciting enough, in fact, to entice me into joining an SVP field trip for the first time. I chose the trip going to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which deserves a post all on its own. Having been on my bucket list for a long while, the Tyrrell proved more than worth the visit, though it was at the cost of missing out on an alternate field trip that included a visit to the type locality of Albertonykus (as more than one participant on that other trip was eager to inform me afterward).

The day after the Tyrrell field trip, the conference proper began in earnest. The welcome reception that evening took place at the Telus Spark science museum. Many of the conference-goers (including some of my associates) were particularly taken by the museum's playground.

Fun on the playground at the SVP welcome reception. Individuals represented are Tristan Stock (Leaellynasaura), Arthur Jarrett Brown (blue Triceratops), Bobby Ebelhar (green Triceratops), Meig Dickson (Kulindadromeus), myself (Albertonykus), Austin Deans (Machairasaurus), Tut Tran (Amphicyon), and Kevin Sievers ("Diplotomodon").

The playground was a nice diversion, but the meat of the conference was of course the presentations. I didn't have anything to present this year, given that my recent research has been focused on invertebrates, so I was free to focus on what everyone else was saying. Some of my favorite presentations included (in order of delivery):

  • Igor Schneider's talk on limb regeneration as an ancestral trait of osteichthyans
  • Ashley Heers's talk on the wing stroke of Archaeopteryx
  • Yara Haridy's talk on ontogenetic tooth migration and tooth loss in Opisthodontosaurus
  • Shuo Wang's talk on ontogenetic tooth loss in theropods (it's not just Limusaurus)
  • Bhart-Anjan Bhullar's talk on evolution and development of the avian beak
  • Grace Musser's talk on the phylogenetic position of Aptornis
  • Alexis Mychajliw's talk on Caribbean Holocene extinctions and solenodon conservation
  • Derek Larson's talk on reconstructing diet in Mesozoic coelurosaurs
  • Aaron LeBlanc's talk on the evolution of mammalian tooth attachment (which deservedly went on to win the Romer Prize)
  • Daniel Field's talk on the selective extinction of arboreal birds during the K-Pg
  • Mike Habib's talk on the aerodynamic function of azhdarchid heads
  • Pete Makovicky's talk on a new specimen of Alnashetri
  • Scott Hartman's talk on "Lori" the Morrison troodont
  • Angelica Torices's talk on inferring theropod feeding strategies through their tooth denticles
  • Ali Nabavizadeh's talk on ornithischian jaw musculature
  • Ross MacPhee's talk on inferring sloth phylogeny through proteomics
  • Alex Hastings's poster on paleontological accuracy in comic books

With honorable mentions to Evan Saitta's talk on recreating Jehol-style preservation in the lab and Fiann Smithwick's talk on evidence of countershading in Sinosauropteryx. (As a student at Bristol, I'd already seen earlier versions of these talks and thus was not as surprised by them as I otherwise might have been.)

In addition to disseminating cutting-edge science, perhaps the most important role of academic conferences is providing the opportunity to socialize and network. Some memorable moments:

  • I must give special thanks to my future PhD supervisor, Daniel Field, for actively going around and introducing me to many of the researchers working in paleornithology, as well as inviting me to their "paleornithology dinner". Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be sitting at the same dinner table as Jacques Gauthier and Xu Xing at this conference.
  • Among the individuals Field introduced me to was Nick Longrich. Having met Phil Currie at my first SVP, I have now met both describers of Albertonykus! I didn't get to talk to Longrich for long, but, considering where I'm going for my PhD, I have a feeling I'll be seeing him often enough in the future...
  • Brian Choo lived up to his old nickname of Ozgod (from the days of the Speculative Dinosaur Project) by using his divine powers to show up out of nowhere right when I was trying to remember whether current consensus favored the "inside-out" or "outside-in" model for tooth origins. (Apparently, outside-in.)
  • On the last day of the conference, I got to meet Scott Potter, known in the online paleontology community as the creator of the Thagomizers YouTube channel. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that he was responsible for the first ever Raptormaniacs fan art!
  • Though it didn't directly involve me, seeing Pascal Godefroit meet Meig Dickson's plush Kulindadromeus (custom-made by Sam Stanton) was a fantastic moment.

Also worthy of mention was the annual SVP auction. I did attend the auction last year, but had been unable to get a good seat and ended up leaving partway through. This time, I managed to secure much better seating. I avoided bidding on anything myself (as a grad student, I don't exactly have much in the way of disposable income), but the proceedings were plenty entertaining in and of themselves, one notable example (among many) being the bidding for an Anomalocaris plush.

As usual, the auction had a theme: this year, the hosts dressed up as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Special props to the person who played Yondu, who did an incredible job. He made good use of the character's most memorable quotes and quirks, and remained in-character throughout. (A small snippet of his performance, his self introduction, can be seen here.) Unfortunately, I didn't know/recognize who he was. Someone who does, please leave a comment!


If there was one downside to the meeting, it was that that many people I know had to miss out or leave early, mainly due to the unusual timing of this year's conference. (I luckily seem to have dodged what apparently was the other major downside, the post-conference flu.) Even so, I certainly had lots of fun, established several new contacts, and listened to some excellent presentations, so I can't complain.

Next up: my photos from the Royal Tyrrell field trip.

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