Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) 2015

NatSCA Digital Digest

Hello and welcome to an SVP conference-themed edition of the NatSCA blog. Before we get started, I’d like to introduce you to two very special lion cubs: These two are from the species Panthera leo spelaea, the now-extinct cave lion. They are at least 10 000 years old and they look like they died yesterday. Here’s a link to Brian Switek’s story of the find.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) conference this year was an avalanche of information, not only for those who attended but for those of us following the live tweets too! I won’t be able to recount the entire thing and you’re probably best off taking a look at the Storify but I’ll mention a few of the highlights for me.

There were non-avian dinosaurs with blue eggs, as well as research on the basal condition of archosaur parenting based on extant bird and croc behaviour.

Bob Bakker presented a view of Dimetrodon as a “Permian bear”: an opportunistic feeder, pulling burrowing animals out of their tunnels by the face some days – while shark-wrestling and taking chunks out of other Dimetrodon the next. I look forward to further studies of these claims but it’s great to see pre-mesozoic behaviour getting an airing.

Nanotyrannus lancensis has been sunk by Dr. Thomas Carr as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. For many this will not be ground-breaking news and there are still questions surrounding its outsized forelimbs that need addressing. Carr compared it to Jane, the Burpee’s spectacular sub-adult specimen and saw clear transitional features from sleek juvenile to hefty adult. Here’s the press release from the SVP.

Paul Sereno gave a frustrating talk on the poor swimming abilities of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus which, given its recently revised body plan, left people wondering what exactly Spinosaurus did well. This could not have come at a worse time for our dear old sailed theropod, as a recent review – published in the PeerJ – of the material associated with Spinosaurus has reattributed much of it to a separate genus of spinosaurid, Sigilmassasaurus. While we wait for Ibrahim et al’s much-anticipated monograh, here’s a recap of the story so far by Mark Witton.

Traces of weening behaviour may hold clues as to the cause of mammoth extinction. By studying nitrogen isotopes in the tips of mammoth tusks, Michael Cherney of the University of Michigan discovered that calves were coming off their mother’s milk younger and younger leading up to their extinction. Shortened weaning can be caused by the stresses of over-hunting in modern elephants and points to over-hunting by our ancestors as the probably cause of their demise. This, combined with John Alroy’s work on the Australian megafauna extinction – also pointing to the spread of humans as primary cause – made this year’s SVP an awkward time to be an human.

Next year’s SVP will be held in Salt Lake City, I can’t wait to hear what this year’s “zomg $8 beer” brigade make of that one (dry town, folks. Dry. town).

Finally, don’t forget to book your Tetzoocon tickets – it is right around the corner!

Sam Barnett, NatSCA Blog Editor

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