Friday, October 23, 2015

SVP 2015

This year marks the first time I've been to a Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meeting.

It was amazing.

The trip didn't start out all fine and dandy though, because it almost didn't happen. The weekend before I set out, I had a health-related scare and was advised to cancel all travel. One of the worst days of my life.

Fortunately, the scare turned out to be a false alarm, but I had to wait until the first day of the conference to confirm it. I hopped on the nearest flight to Dallas (the location of this year's conference) that I could reach as soon as I did, because I would have been damned if I was going to skip out on the rest of SVP for an ultimately trivial issue.

The delay did make me miss the first day, including the talk session on birds (and pterosaurs), but the rest of the conference was a blast regardless. I would be happy to elaborate on the presentations I attended with those curious (except in cases where the authors explicitly did not want their results disseminated), though I am not going to go into detail about every single one here. Between the freely available abstracts, the livetweeting (which I partook in), and the post-conference blog posts of other attendees, there is plenty of publicly available information to go around. Instead, I will provide a quick overview of the personal highlights of my SVP experience.

Favorite presentations (in order of delivery)
-Jason Bourke's talk on reconstructing nasal airflow of dinosaurs
-Eugenia Gold's talk on evolution of bird brains*
-Henry Tsai's talk on evolution of theropod hip joints
-Yoshitsugu Kobayashi's talk on a new two-fingered therizinosaur from the Bayan Shiree Formation
-Phil Currie's talk on a new, excellently-preserved specimen of Saurornitholestes
-Jordan Mallon's talk on lack of evidence for sexual dimorphism in non-avian dinosaurs
-Alida Bailleul's talk on the reliability (and unreliability) of cranial suture closure in assessing ontogenetic stage of archosaurs
-Eric Snively's poster on the turning abilities of ceratopsians, iguanodontians, and large theropods
-Scott Hartman's poster on thermal constraints of Triassic dinosaurs (with many interesting implications!)
-Dan Chure's talk on a scratch-digging drepanosaur
-Sterling Nesbitt's talk on the anatomy of Asilisaurus
-Casey Holliday's talk on convergence between crocodyliform and mammal jaws

*Eugenia, who gave me a tour on my first trip to the AMNH, recently earned her PhD! Congratulations!

In addition, scheduling Michael D'Emic's and John Grady's conflicting talks about inferring dinosaur metabolism back to back made for some illuminating discussion.

UMDers past and present unite at SVP! In reality, we never were able to assemble everyone illustrated here at once, but we got close a couple times. Individuals represented are Susan Drymala (Carnufex), David Tana (Cooperoceras, appearing by video call), Dr. Eugenia Gold (Alioramus), Ben Breeden (Scutellosaurus), Dr. John Merck (Stenopterygius), Dr. Thomas Holtz (Tyrannosaurus), myself (Albertonykus), and Ben Giraldo (Physogaleus).

Notable social observations
-(Some) people know me. When I introduced myself at a paleoart discussion table, I was met with what appeared to be a chorus of "Oh, you're Albertonykus!" Afterward, I decided to add "Albertonykus" to my name tag so others could have an easier time identifying me.
-According to Phil Currie, I am much bigger than other Albertonykus specimens he has seen.
-Received a little surprise when I returned from SVP. It turns out that one of the presenters I'd livetweeted about had not intended their talk to be open to tweeting, but hadn't specified such because they had been under the impression that SVP policies restricted livetweeting by default. (In actuality, the policies allow tweeting by default.) The presenter contacted me and we had a fortunately cordial exchange about the increasing presence and role of social media at scientific meetings (a discussion which happens annually, I'm told). As this exchange happened in a semi-private forum, I will not identify the presenter here, but I'm glad we were able to resolve that thread.

There are a lot of other things I could talk about, but then I'd be here all day. Special thanks to everyone I talked to, including Ben Giraldo, Thomas Holtz, John Merck, Eugenia Gold, Susan Drymala, Mustafa Malik, Scott Hartman, Jennifer Hall, Stevie Moore, Brian Switek, Henry Tsai, Phil Currie, Ben Breeden, Eric Snively, Tatsuro Ando, Devin Hoffman, Phil Senter, Julius Csotonyi, David Marjanović, Jon Tennant, Brad McFeeters, Michael Pittman, Ian Garofalo, Asher Elbein, Bob Bakker, Hans Sues, Jim Kirkland, and Casey Holliday. (Apologies if I left anyone out!) Hope to see everyone again in the near future!


  1. How was the plate of non avian archosaur?

    1. Chicken-like! I might not have been able to detect the difference without knowing what it was.

  2. I've been meaning to ask you about Mallon's talk. When I 1st heard about it on FB, I pointed out that Mallon's evidence would have to be pretty darn extraordinary given what I've read ( ). It didn't help that he mixed up the probable genders of Sue & Stan. Anyway, I read the abstract & came away w/the following:
    -The 1st paragraph (which I assume is supposed to sum up the current state of SD in non-bird dinos) comes off as misleading/wrong when comes to the better-supported examples (especially the "eyeballing" claim; See the highlighted paragraph in this link:,+molnar%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAGoVChMIz4uQuaDwyAIVA4I-Ch0n3QLW#v=onepage&q=%22morphotypes%2C%20molnar%22&f=false ).
    -The 2nd paragraph (which I assume is supposed to sum up the evidence against SD in non-bird dinos) is too jargon-y for me to understand.

    What I'm trying to ask is, what do you make of it? What's the deal w/the abstract? Was the talk any easier to understand in person? What's his evidence, what makes it so darn extraordinary, & how does it explain the histological & morphometric analyses of the better-supported examples (See the Barden quote)? Many thanks in advance.

    Quoting Barden (See "Review of research approaches" in the 1st link): "Many palaeontologists feel that histological analysis provides the best route to finding an answer (Padian, personal communication), possibly because credible results can often be gleaned from smaller sample sizes than those needed for morphometric analyses. The discovery of medullary bone in Tyrannosaurus rex [25] is an example of how such studies can provide persuasive evidence to separate two sexes in a small sample...Morphometric analyses offer the best way of establishing the presence of two different ‘morphs’ within a sample, whether these are separated by size, shape, or both. Such studies have revealed dimorphisms in Protoceratops [30], Stegoceras [39] and Lambeosaurus [36]."

    1. Contact Mallon for the details, but I can provide a SparkNotes rendition of the key points:
      -Sexual dimorphism cannot be demonstrated with a sample size of two. Ergo, cases built on only two individuals (e.g.: Khaan) cannot be considered to be strong support for sexual dimorphism.
      -It is not sufficient to test only for a bimodal distribution of characters; we should also test whether a unimodal or normal distribution fits the patterns better.
      -When applied to purported sexual dimorphism in non-avian dinosaurs, the only dataset that is best explained by bimodality is differences in plate shapes of Hesperosaurus.
      -However, bimodality does not automatically validate sexual dimorphism; in Hesperosaurus, the differences may be variation within a single individual.
      -It is not unlikely that sexual dimorphism was present in non-avian dinosaurs, but none of the suggested examples so far can be satisfactorily upheld, according to these results.

    2. "Contact Mallon for the details,"

      I'm not especially familiar w/Mallon. Also, you're my go-to guy for all things dino, especially when it comes to being unbiased & understanding technical info (Put another way: ). Anyway, the Khaan part makes sense, but I'm not so sure about the rest. Is he claiming that until now, purported SD has been tested 1 way (bimodal distribution), but not other ways (unimodal & normal distributions)? Again, many thanks in advance.

    3. This is the method he proposes for evaluating claims of sexual dimorphism. I don't remember him saying that it's never been used by others for this purpose, so I wouldn't put those words in his mouth, even though it may be the case.

    4. "This is the method he proposes for evaluating claims of sexual dimorphism."

      Unimodal & normal distributions? Just making sure.

    5. The specific sequence of making sure there's a large enough sample size, testing whether normal, unimodal, or bimodal are the best fit, and considering different sources of variation in deciding what type of dimorphism is present (if any).