Monday, November 6, 2023

SVP 2023

Despite those of us on international flights being made to go through security twice, SVP attendees received a warm welcome in Cincinnati, Ohio this year.

The welcome reception was held at the Cincinnati Museum Center, which proved to be an excellent venue, being spacious enough that it generally didn't feel too crowded even with about 1000 paleontologists crammed inside. The Cincinnati Museum Center is composed of several museums and other facilities, but for me going through just the Museum of Natural History and Science took up most of the evening. Here is the skull of Apatosaurus (with some other sauropod parts).

Two large theropods from the Morrison Formation are mounted side by side, the megalosauroid Torvosaurus and the allosauroid... Allosaurus. The Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science apparently has the world's only Torvosaurus mount on display, and it was certainly an impressive sight.

Nearby is the tyrannosaurid Daspletosaurus.

You know you study birds though when one of the theropod mounts you were most excited about was a chicken skeleton...

It wouldn't be a vertebrate paleontology trip to Ohio without saying hi to Dunkleosteus!

I'd had no idea that stem-amniote tracks had been found in Ohio. These ones are Carboniferous in age.

The museum has an excellent Pleistocene exhibit, including this cabinet of North American carnivoran skulls. These species lived alongside each other during the Pleistocene, but only half of them are still extant today.

To drive the point home, part of the gallery consists of a model Pleistocene forest where restorations of extinct and extant North American organisms are exhibited side by side. I noticed that the museum signage was remarkably up to date, for example reflecting the recent reclassification of the dire wolf in the genus Aenocyon, distinct from Canis.

Not every extinct species shown in this gallery died out thousands of years ago, as it also includes models of passenger pigeons, which went extinct in the early 20th Century. Imagery depicting passenger pigeons is not difficult to come by in Cincinnati—the Cincinnati Zoo was where the last one died. Speaking of which, SVP deserves props for organizing free entry to the zoo for conference attendees, an amenity that I made sure to capitalize on. That should probably be the subject of its own post though.

This year's SVP had no fewer than six talk sessions focused on dinosaurs. It would have been possible for one to attend almost nothing but dinosaur sessions and still be present at the conference throughout the entire time that talks were being held. As with last year, my labmates and I represented a large proportion of the speakers in the bird session (to the point where other speakers this year joked about it). 

We were also graced by the presence of a very special attendee. Session moderator Meig Dickson had brought along eir green-cheeked parakeet Ellie, making this the only time in SVP history I'm aware of that a dinosaur has helped moderate a talk session. Ellie was remarkably well behaved throughout the conference, for most part only vocalizing during audience applause. In any case, my own talk went well and received Ellie's blessing.

As others have written about, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport plays host to several skeletal mounts of Pleistocene megafauna, including a mastodon, the "stag-moose" Cervalces, and the ground sloth Megalonyx. I'd missed these on my way in to Cincinnati, but got to see them during my departure.

All in all, I had a lot of fun at SVP this year, but I know that not everyone came away from it so fortunate. As of the time of writing, the proportion of attendees who have reported contracting COVID-19 during or after the conference has been twice as high this year as it was in 2022. Notably, no masking mandate was in place for this SVP, and I hope the organization reconsiders this policy at future meetings. I managed to avoid the disease this time, but having caught it for the first time myself during SAPE earlier in the year, it's not an experience that I'm eager to repeat again, nor would I wish it on anyone else.

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