Sunday, October 27, 2019

SVP 2019

This year's SVP was held in far-off Brisbane, Australia! (At least, "far-off" from the perspective of the usual majority contingent of North American and European delegates.) Australia has long been a bucket list location for me, so I was thrilled that I was fortunate enough to attend. This was not only my first time in Australia, but also my first time anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was amazing. Seeing all the Australian wildlife alone made the trip worth it. Before I saw a single rock pigeon in the city parks, I'd already seen seven species of birds I'd never seen previously. One of the most common, of course, was the Australian ibis (locally known as the "bin chicken"). In the background here is a maned duck, also known as the Australian wood duck due to its habit of nesting in trees, though it is not closely related to the North American wood duck.

An Australasian darter drying its wings.

I took one day away from the conference to go on a guided birding tour with my supervisor Daniel Field, my labmate Juan Benito, and fellow paleornithologist Adam Smith. As a group we saw or heard over 100 bird species, which means that I saw more bird species in three days in Australia than I have in three years of being in England.

Among the many birding hotspots we visited near Brisbane were these mangrove forests.

We saw three kingfisher species in or near the mangroves: laughing kookaburra, Torresian kingfisher, and sacred kingfisher (pictured).

A black-faced cuckooshrike. Cuckooshrikes arose from an early split within the clade Corvides, the songbirds more closely related to crows than to sparrows.

I'd been hoping to see woodswallows on the trip, and this white-breasted woodswallow granted my wish. Woodswallows are members of an Australasian radiation of songbirds called the artamids. This group also includes birds such as the Australian "magpie" and currawongs, which we also saw in Brisbane. As their name suggests, woodswallows are convergent on swallows in their ecology, catching insects by skillfully flying through the air.

I was also excited to comb-crested jacanas. We even saw a male leading three chicks around (though it was too far away for my camera).

Here's a flying tetrapod of a different sort. Flying foxes were a common sight throughout much of Brisbane, especially in flowering trees.

The highlight for me though was seeing two young powerful owls! (Daniel got a photo of one of them.) The wild koala was cool, too. Probably the only real mishap we encountered was that we got accidentally locked inside a campground after dark, but that was ultimately more of an inconvenience than anything. Also, the fact that we didn't get to see any wild frogmouths. On the whole though, I consider this year's trip to have been a great success, and I look forward to next year!

Oh, right, I was also there to attend a conference or something...

The conference itself was certainly a good time. The welcome reception took place in the Queensland Museum, where the museum staff brought out some of their live animals (used in their educational programs) for us to see. And though I didn't manage to see frogmouths in the wild on this trip, one of those education animals was a tawny frogmouth!

This wombat proved to be very popular.

In addition to the live frogmouth, there were also these taxidermied specimens on display.

The taxidermy displays in general were quite impressive. Here a barn owl is shown preying on a long-haired rat, a species whose population goes through dramatic boom-and-bust cycles.

A pair of striped possums (ecologically convergent with the Malagasy aye-aye), along with a white-lipped tree frog.

A perentie that had died trying to swallow an echidna. I first learned of this specimen from Tetrapod Zoology.

Befitting the occasion, the Queensland Museum also has a number of paleontological exhibits. Here are some paleontologists mingling near a skeletal mount of Muttaburrasaurus.

The ankylosaur Kunbarrasaurus, known from a nearly complete specimen.

Although I've presented talks at scientific conferences before, this year marks the first time I've given one at SVP. I talked about my recently published work on the phylogenetic relationships within Strisores, the nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds, and their kin. People seemed to like it, or at least everyone who mentioned it to me afterward did. As part of my presentation, I included a parody of the Twitter logo drawn as a nightjar. (I also made a turaco version for Daniel's talk and shared my existing Ichthyornis with Juan.)

As for the talks that I enjoyed, select highlights include the following:
  • Christopher Nedza's talk on changes in melanosome distribution during the decay of fish carcasses
  • Kieren Mitchell's talk on the phylogenetic position of dire wolves
  • Wang Shiying's talk on a new basal pygostylian from the Jehol Group
  • James Neenan's talk on convergent sensory ecologies between alvarezsaurs and owls
  • Patrick O'Connor's talk on an unusual avialan from the Maevarano Formation
  • Todd Green's talk on the development of bony crests in birds
  • Ian Miller's talk on how plants shaped vertebrate ecosystems during the Late Cretaceous and early Paleogene
My guide to paleocolor in dinosaurs had an unexpected presence at the meeting. Firstly, it was featured (and praised!) in Arindam Roy's talk on amniote paleocolor reconstruction. Secondly, my friend Jun-Hyeok Jang showed me a Korean dinosaur book that'd been illustrated with a multitude of entertaining cartoons, among them one that had almost certainly been inspired by my guide!
My original for comparison.

The SVP auction was fun as usual, though I was nodding off by the end of it all thanks to lingering jetlag. This year's auction theme was not any specific pop culture work, but a more generalized theme of "Australia"; thus, the hosts dressed up as kangaroos, cassowaries, and so on.

For the afterparty I'd thought that it would have been a missed opportunity not to play songs by Professor Flint, a science communicator who specializes in singing about Australian paleontology. The organizers more than met my expectations by treating us to a Professor Flint live performance! I got the sense that many attendees were somewhat perplexed by this, but songs with science-related lyrics are my jam, so I was honestly pretty delighted. In any case, Professor Flint's show was soon followed by a more conventional (at least by paleontologist standards) dance party, presumably putting the confused parties at ease. I'm not much of a partier though, so I retired for the night.

I'd enjoyed my time in Australia so much that I almost didn't want to leave, but all good things must come to an end. I do hope that I get to visit again someday. In the meantime, I did have TetZooCon to look forward to!

Hungry paleontologists/paleoartists/paleontology enthusiasts at SVP 2019 looking for food. Individuals represented are Tom Parker (Australovenator), myself (Albertonykus), Darren Naish (Eotyrannus), Jun-Hyeok Jang (Brachiosaurus), Henry Thomas (Zhejiangopterus), William Stout (Parasaurolophus), Joe Nicholson (Dinornis), and Tas (Iguanodon).

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