Every fall, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) holds a conference. This year (2021) was the eighty-first conference, second online conference, and the second year I have attended. Although the membership of SVP has some overlap with the Geological Society of America, this conference is much more specialized – focusing only on vertebrates. Vertebrate focused education, preservation, and trace fossils (e.g. tracks, burrows, scat) are included along with research of specimens.
Due to issues with private collecting of fossils, SVP has strict ethics guidelines on specimens included in research. Fossils in private collections or currently for sale cannot be included in abstracts or presented research. Research specimens referred to must be “destined to be made available in full at the time of publication”.
I wanted to attend the SVP conference again so I could learn about cutting edge research, research methods, and attend virtual networking sessions. I presented my research as a poster last year but did not present this year. Hopefully, I will present research next year.
Online conferences make networking difficult, but SVP hosted zoom roundtable discussion sessions and daily coffee hours. These allowed for a casual networking atmosphere. The roundtable events were fresh and informative, focusing on issues such as mental health, LGBTQ+ scientists, disability, and diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
I was part of a workshop entitled “Inclusive Science Communication”. There, I learned about website and figure accessibility (e.g. maps can be difficult for those with colorblindness), use of inclusive language and awareness of assumptions, and the importance of considering the intended audience.
One of the events SVP holds is the Romer prize, a prestigious prize awarded to a recent or soon-to-be PhD graduate for the best presentation. I was able to watch the majority of the Romer prize talks. I learned about a variety of fascinating research, from bone histology to fossil primates. These presentations also demonstrate ways to structure talks, visually structure slides, and present research. I find it helpful to learn from other’s examples with skills like presenting.
One of the best parts about attending conferences is learning about cutting-edge research. For instance, I learned that many paleontologists are using isotope geochemistry to answer really interesting research questions. This has inspired me to sign up for an isotope geochemistry course next semester.
Besides being exposed to new research, I was able to watch presentations and see posters of research similar to my master’s thesis project. I study speciation in wolves using geometric morphometrics and was able to learn about other’s research methods for handling the immense amounts of hybridization between wolf species and coyotes, such as mitochondrial DNA. It’s refreshing to see different approaches to a problem I’m focused on.
I look forward to attending future SVPs, hopefully in person.
I had been up since 2 am Saturday morning in order to travel from Connecticut to New York in order to make a 7:35 am flight. I was sleep-deprived, but so extremely excited to attend my first in-person conference since 2019. GSA doesn’t typically attract the largest cohort of vertebrate paleontologists, but this year promised larger attendance. Everyone is eager to see each other in person again since the pandemic stole so much time away from us.
At 7:34 am, a flight attendant announced, “This morning’s flight has been canceled due to no pilot.”
I’m not kidding. This happened. Was this some sort of ironic joke? My lab mates and I had been planning this trip for months! We had meetings to schedule flights together, book the Airbnb, practice our presentations…
All our flights were scattered to new times that day, but between the rebookings and confusion between airlines, our rag-tag crew of grad students made it to Portland more-or-less in one piece.
Again, we were up by 7 am the next morning to go straight to the conference. Portland’s convention center where the conference was held is massive, and I found myself running back-and-forth to catch all the brilliant talks and posters. GSA even held poster and talk sessions on the topic of virtual paleontology, where my own poster on digital fossil reconstruction was featured. Listening to so many clever scientists discuss how they tackle issues related digital methods revealed to me just how quickly paleontology is propelling into state-of-the-art techniques. It felt good to be surrounded by all the science. It felt even better to hug my friends for the first time in years.
There were so many other highlights of the meeting. First, I met people I had only previously met in video calls and Twitter. Turns out they’re pretty amazing people, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to discuss our interests over lunches and dinners. Second, I received amazing feedback on my own poster, and I’m thrilled by the collaborations that the presentation sparked. Third, I have to admit I stepped away from the convention center to visit the Oregon Zoo, Powell’s Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world), and VooDoo Doughnut. What’s the point in holding conferences in fun places if you don’t explore just a little, right?
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure I’d care much for GSA beforehand. I thought it might not be the best fit for my research interests. GSA and the many wonderful people who attended proved me wrong. I anticipate attending this conference many more times in the future, and I’m so honored that the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant offered me the opportunity to do so.
The Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting is one of the biggest geology conferences, which is attended by over 5000 geologists every year. GSA is full of opportunities for everyone – students, academics, early career researchers, K-12 teachers as well as industry professionals. Despite the international travel restrictions, researchers located outside of the USA including students could participate in the meeting this year due to the hybrid mode of the conference. International researchers recorded and uploaded their talks and were present over the zoom platform to answer questions from the audience during their presentation timeslot. With the valuable assistance from Time Scavengers, GSA, Jackson School of Geosciences, and my Ph.D. supervisor, I could attend and present a poster on my preliminary research results at GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon. The poster was about taxonomic assessment of macrofaunal communities from the Early Jurassic of Morocco. It was my first GSA poster presentation, and I received a lot of constructive feedback on my poster. It was also good to discuss science with fellow researchers who stopped by my poster; sometimes I learned about their research, and at other times I received intriguing interdisciplinary ideas. I realized posters are an extremely effective way to receive feedback when presenting preliminary results and there is ample scope to interact with other researchers, while showcasing my research.
Apart from my poster presentation, I attended several talks. In the evenings, I visited the exhibit halls and attended receptions, which were organized by the different GSA divisions and communities within the broader GSA. My day one at GSA 2021 started with the mass extinction technical session. My research focuses on triggers and kill mechanisms associated with mass extinctions, and hence, the mass extinction session was perfect to start the conference with. I attended several other paleontology and paleoecology sessions the same day. In the evening, I explored the different booths in the exhibit halls and then attended the Geology and Society division’s social event called, “New Terranes” (formerly known as Rocks and Hops). I was the student representative of the Geology and Society division from 2018-2020, where I worked with an excellent group of geoscientists dedicated in integrating the science to the society. I met the board members with whom I worked previously, while making new connections at the reception.
I started my day two with a geochemistry session, specifically about applications of isotopes in carbon cycle and their correlation with mass extinctions. After the geochemistry session, I went to another session on trace fossils. In the afternoon, I attended a technical session on geoscience education. It was an interactive session, where there was active audience participation, for example, for one of the talks we (the audience) were divided into small groups to answer how a mountain belt evolved tectonically. During another presentation, we interacted with people sitting next to us to understand the survival and extinction of reef ecosystems. By collaboratively working through each of the 15 minutes presentations, I could effectively learn about topics outside of my research area by applying the hands-on techniques as demonstrated by the speakers. After the technical sessions, I attended the “GSA International” reception. The GSA international division works to establish collaborative relationships with GSA and other scientific societies worldwide. Anyone could be a member of the division, including international researchers who work worldwide or in the US as well as US researchers who work internationally. There were delegates from Nepal, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Colombia, and from different US universities at the reception. Apart from scientific knowledge, I also got an opportunity to learn about the work and social cultures of the different countries. There were delegates from the GSA foundation and Fulbright Scholarship Commission as well. It was great to know about the amazing geoscience work the division does such as holding conferences, workshops, and lecture sessions globally. In addition to the GSA Geology and Society and the GSA international reception, I attended the Jackson School of Geosciences friends and alumni event. It was my department’s reception, where I interacted with recent graduates and alumni of my department.
In addition to the paleontology and geoscience education sessions, I attended the Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) session, where representatives from different organizations participating in the URGE program presented about their institute pods and their plan forward. Overall, although the number of people were comparatively lower than other years, it was a successful meeting. There were plenty of technical sessions to stay updated on the state-of-the-art research, as well as ample opportunities to meet new scientists to enhance one’s professional network.
This year, I attended my first National Geological Society of America meeting, now called GSA Connects. It ran several days from October 10th — 13th, and over 3,000 people attended, representing many different subsets of geology and related fields. There was a virtual option, but I attended the in-person conference hosted in Portland, Oregon, at the Oregon Convention Center. There were talks, posters, and a plethora of booths from different schools and organizations, along with many different networking opportunities provided by the Geological Society itself.
My poster was accepted and assigned to the advances in paleontology session on Wednesday the 13th, but I did attend the whole duration of the conference. Although I am a Montana State University undergraduate student, the research I presented was in association with the Western Science Center (WSC) in Hemet, California. The WSC had a booth at the conference, which I helped out at. They were speaking on their broader impacts initiative, where they give researchers the ability to do outreach about their own research by having an exhibit at the WSC.
I was also attending the conference as a student ambassador for the Paleontological Society. I worked at the society’s booth during the conference, speaking with professionals and students about the journals, scholarships, and conference opportunities available through society memberships. At the booth, I was able to speak to Paleo Society mentors and other student ambassadors about my plans and struggles within the field and was able to get feedback and suggestions on how to continue to successfully move forward within the field.
As I mentioned, there were also professional resources provided by the Geological Society— one of the resources that I took advantage of was the CV and resume reviews. I am a junior in college at the moment and am starting to look at summer internships. Many applications require a CV, so I brought mine in for a review. I got some very helpful feedback on how to improve the formatting, have worked on it some more, and am quite happy with how it’s been turning out.
Many schools also had booths at the conference. I plan on going to grad school, so being able to speak to school representatives and current students was extremely helpful. I am still working out if I want to do a master’s or apply straight to Ph.D. programs after finishing my bachelor’s, so seeing what is available and having those conversations makes me feel like I’ll be able to make a more informed choice.
I was also able to attend talks related to the research I’m doing at Montana State University, which focuses on dromaeosaurid dinosaurs. Due to the pandemic, in-person conferences and museum visits were largely put on hold, and I was not able to meet with other people working on the same family of animals. The conference finally provided that opportunity, and I was able to discuss my research in detail and receive constructive feedback. The feedback I received allowed me to ask questions about my own project that I otherwise may not have thought of and has given me many ideas on how to evaluate and strengthen my claims.
As I stated earlier, however, the work I was presenting at the conference was not my university research, but rather the work I’ve done in association with the Western Science Center. The focus of my presentation was the disappearance of megafaunal animals in Southern California during the end Pleistocene (Ice Age) extinctions with a focus on horses. Horses disappeared from California at or near the end of the Pleistocene, along with most other large mammals— but the order of disappearance of the large mammals in the Southern California region isn’t well documented. Lake Elsinore is a naturally occurring lake in Riverside County, California. During the 2017-2019 excavations of a housing development in Lake Elsinore, numerous fossils were exposed by mitigation company VCS Environmental. These finds included large mammals, small animals, invertebrates, and wood. The site dates to around 14,600 — 14,800 years before present. The fossils are consistent with other Late Pleistocene fossil assemblages from Southern California, with the large mammal bones belonging to camels, bison, and mastodons— but no horses! This is extremely odd— Its absence is likely not due to habitat preference, as horse fossils are found in abundance across many different Southern California sites, from the Mojave desert to the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Its absence from Lake Elsinore is likely not due to a sampling bias because of the number of well-preserved fossils recovered from the site. My co-author Dr. Alton Dooley and I suggest that the absence of horses could be perhaps attributed to the start of their disappearance happening before the extinction of mastodons and camels and the disappearance of bison from Southern California.
I was grateful for all the people that stopped by and listened, and I had multiple constructive conversations with other scientists. I was able to speak to other paleontologists, several geologists, and even a geoarchaeologist. These conversations allowed me to discuss multiple aspects of the site, which I found incredibly helpful.
This was by far the largest conference I had ever been to, and although all the people and interactions could be a bit overwhelming at times, I learned so much about possible paths in the field, made good connections, and am excited to continue working on my research both at the university, the museum, and in the future in general.
The annual meeting of the German Geological Society (Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft Geologische Vereinigung (DGGV)) was hosted by the city of Karlsruhe in 2021. Like many other conferences in the last two years, it was held online. At online conferences it is particularly difficult to have fun get-togethers and to participate in casual conversation. At GeoKarlsruhe 2021, some social events were organized that helped to make the conference more lively.
Firstly, there was the well-organized icebreaker on Sunday. Within the online platform “wonder” a nice room was prepared with several spaces and activities. Among them a pub quiz, a video space, a music space and individual spaces to meet. The pub quiz was quite entertaining and there were small prizes to be won. Sadly, I did not win a prize 😉. The video about an excursion to Oman was very cool and increased my interest to visit the region myself. Overall, the icebreaker was a great opportunity to talk to attendees in advance in small groups or individually.
The conference itself offered a wide variety of scientific topics. They ranged from Earth surface processes and sedimentation to marine geology, climate, geo-energy, geo-analytics, regional geology, tectonics, and applied geology, as well as mineralogical and geophysical topics. My greatest scientific interest was in the sessions on paleoclimate and sedimentology. However, the main reason I attended the conference was to organize the Early Career Researchers (ECR) meeting, the ECR game night, and the Young Scientist Session.
At the Young Scientist Session, we had 13 very interesting oral presentations. The session was divided into three parts, lasting from Tuesday morning to evening. At lunchtime on Tuesday, the SGA Student Chapter organised a little “networking speed dating” event. It was quite fun because you were sent into a breakout session with another random person, where you briefly got to know each other and talked for a bit. After 15 minutes, you were then assigned to the next person to talk to. The atmosphere was relaxed, and it was nice to meet some of the other attendees and learn what fascinated them most about their research topics.
The ECR meeting took place on Wednesday at lunchtime. At the meeting, we, the early career network of the German Geological Society, briefly introduced ourselves and then opened the space for networking and exchange between ECRs. For this, breakout sessions with different research independent topics were open for 45 min. It was super nice to get to talk about topics that are relevant to many early career researchers. It was a good reminder, that others are struggling with similar issues in their studies and PhDs. I was able to benefit from the experiences of the other attendees in my breakout room and even received some helpful tips.
Wednesday evening, starting at 8pm, we had an online game night. Here we had a lot of fun playing “geoguessr”. In this game you are set in a place on earth (unknown to you) and you can only navigate through Google Street View. You can move and look around a bit to find clues to where you are. Finally, you have to choose a point on the world map based on the visual impressions and see how close your guess is to the actual place you’ve seen.
Overall, the conference was very interesting. For me, it had a good balance between listening to interesting talks (while chilling on the couch) and talking to other conference participants. Still, it was a bit tiring to sit in front of the screen all day, often aswell during lunch breaks and in the evening to talk to people. I have yet to experience an online conference where networking is as fun as in a face-to-face conference. But the lower impact on the climate by eliminating the need for long journeys make online conferences very attractive. I would like to see more hybrid events in the future. It would be great to be able to attend international conferences without having to travel far by plane, but also to attend some regional conferences in person again to have the full conference experience from time to time.
This year is the third iteration of an entirely online conference, Palaeontological Virtual Congress, open to abstract submissions from anyone studying paleontological sciences. A broadly accessible conference as the digital means provides increased access to scientific content. There is flexibility with file format, presenters can be visible on camera augmented by images and slides edited into the video, upload their slides without an overlaying audio, or walk through their slides while providing audio narrative. We asked Vicente Crespo, the main organizer, some questions about the concept and the history of the conference.
Who organized this event?
The Organizing Committee is formed by 9 people, with 3 professors (Evangelos Vlachos, Rosalía Guerrero-Arenas and Penélope Cruzádo-Caballero), 4 post-doctoral researchers (María Ríos, Francesc Gascó, Humberto G. Ferrón and me), and 2 pre-doc students (Fernando A. M. Arnal and José Luis Herráiz) from five different countries. In the past editions of the congress, it was expected there would be around 100 participants, and the final attendees were near 400. This year there was a total of 275 contributions presented, and I we will have around 600 participants, which at the moment are from 51 different registered countries.
What are the major changes in the upcoming event compared to the last installment?
Although we always try to keep a similar format, which is comfortable and easy for users, we also try to innovate in each edition and try to learn each time from the advice given by the participants. This is why this edition we have set new Discord channels, so that interaction between participants is more direct and easy plus we set a new website. But, and above all, in this edition we really wanted to make clear the purpose of this initiative which is to reach all, and include all, which meant setting a new Social Fund that allows participants from low and lower-middle income countries to get a registration free of charge.
Online conferences have gotten much more common as the COVID-19 crisis persists. Will this change how people perceive the PalaeoVC?
I hope it won’t change the way people see us! It is true that in these difficult times, typically face-to-face congresses have become virtual. Most of them have kept their in-person soul, that is, reduced to the same time period as their face-to-face versions and the conferences in real time, although I believe that in time, they will return to being in person. However, in the PVC, which was held before the pandemic, and is aimed at a more global audience, the congress lasts 15 days, and the presentations are not live, so you can enjoy them at any time of the day, and as many times as you want, with the freedom other type of events do not provide.
Will there be a 4th PalaeoVC?
Hopefully there will be a fourth edition, especially with the success in participation of this third edition. Our idea is to hold it every year and a half, so the next one should be in May 2023.
So hope you enjoy it and See you soon at the 3rd PVC… and at the 4th PVC!
International Fossil Day is an initiative by the International Paleontological Association and the National Park Service (National Fossil Day in the U.S.), the idea is to spread the interest in the life of the past and many different organisations and museums around the world host events or activities today. Of course we, the Time Scavengers team, have to participate in this, there can never be too much paleo-related fun!
We want to celebrate IFD by showing off our team members’ favourite extinct species or individual fossils, some facts about the species or individual and why we picked them as our favourites.
Click here to visit the National Park Service website to learn more about National Fossil Day, and here to visit the International Palaeontological Association to learn more about International Fossil Day!
Most of my paleontology lectures during my undergrad took place in small rooms somewhere deep in the side wings of the institute building, on the edge of the paleontological collection/museum that is located within the institute. Whenever me and my friends were waiting for our professors to show up, we would stare and marvel at the exhibited specimens. I vividly remember walking into that area for the first time, it is dominated by a huge, mounted skeleton of an adult cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and I was completely blown away by the sheer power it radiates. I didn’t care too much about the T. rex skull cast around the corner that most others found so fascinating. From that first day of paleo classes, having my own mounted cave bear skeleton has been on the top of my bucket list. U. spelaeus lived during the Pleistocene across both northern Asia and Europe and went extinct during the Last Glacial Maximum about 24,000 years ago. They are closely related to brown bears (Ursus arctos), the two species have a last common ancestor about 1.2 million years ago. Even though they were huge, powerful bears that were reaching 3.5m (11.5ft) when standing upright, with large teeth and fearsome claws, it’s currently thought that the majority of the western populations were eating an almost exclusively vegetarian diet! Recently, two very well preserved frozen cave bear carcasses have been discovered in two separate areas of thawing permafrost in Russia, an adult and a cub, both with almost all soft tissue present and intact. I’m already excited and looking forward to reading all the new research that will be done on these specimens!
I worked at the Field Museum of Natural History during the summer of 2015 and that experience was what solidified my interest in paleontology. I worked with my supervisor on Eocene mammals from the western United States and had some of my first experiences doing large scientific outreach events during that summer. Because of that summer I will always have a soft spot for Uintatheres!
Uintatheres (U. anceps) lived during the Eocene in North America and were large browsers. These animals looked similar to rhinos but male U. anceps had six knob-shaped protrusions coming off of their skulls. Part of my experience working with these fossils was reorganizing the collections space that housed the skulls, they are incredibly heavy! I mentioned that U. anceps were browsers, but they also had long canine teeth that resemble the canines of saber tooth cats. These teeth may have been used as a defense mechanism but also may have played a role in how they plucked leaves from plants. While I don’t work on Eocene mammals now, Uintatheres will always be special to me for the role they played in getting me excited about paleontology and scientific outreach!
I cannot pick just one fossil to highlight right now, so here are two of my favorites! In 2016, I was studying in England and visited the Natural History Museum in London where I saw an incredible ammonite, Asteroceras stellare. Asteroceras was a large ammonite that lived during the Early Jurassic and whose shell reached nearly three feet in diameter. Asteroceras was a nektonic carnivore who might have fed on fish, crustaceans, and bivalves.
My favorite vertebrate fossil is the Ichthyosaur. I loved visiting the Jurassic Coast in England and got to explore Lyme Regis, both the birthplace of Mary Anning and a town that had references to paleontology everywhere you looked. You can see ichthyosaur fossils in both the Lyme Regis Museum and the Natural History Museum in London and at the NHM, you can see some of the specimens that Mary Anning and her family had collected along the Jurassic Coast. Ichthyosaurs (Greek for “fish lizard”), are marine reptiles that lived during much of the Mesozoic and were thought to be one of the top aquatic predators of their time.
I have three favorite extinct species: the American mastodon (Mammut americanum), the dinosaur Parasaurolophus, and the chalicothere Moropus elatus. Mastodons are distant relatives of the elephants, and they seem to be overshadowed by the wooly mammoth. However, both lived in North America until the end of the Pleistocene epoch. I’ve always thought that Parasaurolophus was an elegant duck-billed dinosaur, and I’ve seen them featured in several movies in the Jurassic Park series. I think that chalicotheres are so bizarre! Distant relatives to horses, rhinos, and tapirs, imagine a big draft horse with giant claws instead of hooves! I’ve seen several skeletons of these over the years. Moropus elatus went extinct in the Miocene epoch.
Like anyone in paleo would tell you I can’t pick one particular fossil organism as my favorite. Currently my favorite fossil organism is the “bear-dog” known as Amphicyoningens which would have been a formidable predator during the Mid-Miocene. The cenozoic was a time for innovation in mammals and bear-dogs were the best of both worlds. All the stoic grandeur of a bear and all the cute charm of a dog, what more could you want? The picture shown was taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Jonathan Jordan (Paleo Policy Podcast)
For me, the Mesozoic reigns supreme. However, my recent trip to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles gave me a greater appreciation for the Cenozoic era and mammalian evolution in general. While it may not be my favorite fossil ever, I was captivated by Panthera atrox’s look and the idea of an American Serengeti 340,000 to 11,000 years ago. Genetic analysis suggests with high likelihood that Panthera atrox is a close relative of the Eurasian Cave Lion (Panthera spelaea). After the Bering Strait land bridge was submerged by rising sea levels, Panthera atrox was isolated from its Eurasian relatives and became a distinct species that has been found as north as Alaska and as south as Mexico. Neat! Check out an image of Panthera atrox’s skull on the Smithsonian Learning Lab site!
I’m fortunate to have worked on many different types of animals during my career, starting with dinosaurs, then moving to Devonian brachiopods and their encrusting organisms, and now working on much younger Pleistocene-aged animals that are still alive today. I mostly study biotic interactions, such as predation, so I thought I would share my favourite trace fossil (ichnotaxon), Caedichnus! Trace fossils are different than a body fossil because they show evidence (or traces) of an organism or its behaviour. In the case of Caedichnus, this trace fossil is created by a crab trying to break into the shell of a snail by peeling away at the shell opening (aperture) until it can reach the snail’s soft body. Imagine having a crab try to peel your shell back like an orange – scary! Caedichnus traces are useful for determining how many crabs were in an area, and identifying patterns of crab predation through space and time. I’m now using them to determine the impacts of climate change and human activity on crab fisheries since pre-human times.
Like most of my colleagues above, it is incredibly hard for me to say which fossil is my favorite! So instead, I’ll talk about my favorite fossil group, the foraminifera. Foraminifera are single-celled protists that live in the surface ocean (planktic foraminifera) or in/on ocean sediments (benthic foraminifera). Planktic foraminifera are my favorites; they evolved about 175 million years ago, and still live in the global ocean today! One of the ways which we know about past climate states how the ocean behaved to such warming and cooling events of the geologic past is through analyzing the chemistry of fossil foraminifera shells, or tests! Foraminifera are also incredibly useful in studies of evolution, as they have a robust fossil record. Learn more about Foraminifera here!
What’s YOUR favourite extinct species? Let us know in the comments, maybe we will feature them in a future post!
During a recent field trip (August 2021), we visited the Dino Parque Lourinhã in western Portugal, approximately 50 km north of Lisbon. Dino Parque Lourinhã is open every day except on holidays and tickets currently cost 9,90 € for children, 13 € for adults, but you can get your tickets at a lower price if you book online [Fig 1].
The park consists of a large outdoor area showcasing life sized dinosaur reconstructions, a small museum as well as an activities hall.
The main part of the park consists of an outdoor space, divided into four zones highlighting the terrestrial fauna of the Paleozoic, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. A fifth area (called sea monsters) displays a range of marine creatures from different periods, from Jurassic ammonites to Eocene manatees [Fig 2]. A large board near the entrance shows a geologic timescale, depicting the main transitional events and examples of typical fauna and flora for each period [Fig 3]. Five paths then wind through a dense pine forest, hiding even the largest dinosaurs surprisingly well until you stand right in front of them – you never know what lurks behind the next group of trees. The natural cover also provides shade on hot sunny days. Arrows give visitors a chance to walk through the zones in chronological order to experience the evolution of the prehistorical fauna.
All displays come with explanations in English, Portuguese, French and Spanish, giving a brief overview of each creature, where fossils have been found, when it lived, information about its diet and hunting strategies, and more. These signs also include pictures of the actual fossils that can be compared with the reconstruction.
The vast majority of reconstructions is rather up to date with the scientific literature; a large number of theropods is shown with a variety of feathers for example [Fig 4]. It is clear that such huge displays cannot be re-done with every new paper that is being published on a certain species, but overall, we found the scientific accuracy of the models impressive. This is certainly due to the very recent opening of the park in 2019. We highly recommend a visit to the park to see brand new dinosaur models. While dinosaurs are, of course, the main attraction of this place, you will also find reconstructions of many different prehistoric animals, such as invertebrates, amphibians, marine reptiles and pterosaurs. All reconstructions were made in dynamic poses, and this artistic choice makes them look alive – guaranteeing great photos [Fig 5]. In total there are more than 180 models.
For all the very young paleontologists the park has much to offer. Several mini-playgrounds are scattered throughout the exhibits and paleontology is presented in a child friendly manner with a diversity of educational activities and shows. There is for example a sand box in which a plesiosaur replica fossil is hidden so that playing children can excavate it themselves. We also noticed that the only stairs in the entire park are used to access a platform near the head of Supersaurus, a very large sauropod. The rest of the park uses slopes and is thus wheelchair accessible and lots of benches and picnic tables are distributed throughout the entire park so the next place to rest is never far away.
The museum focuses on the rich local dinosaur fauna found in the area, such as a nest of Lourinhanosaurus eggs with embryos inside, and Torvosaurus remains. The museum also explains the local geology and how the area looked like during the Jurassic; it was a meandering river/delta system located in the Lusitanian Basin. Both alluvial and marine fossils are abundant in the sedimentary rocks. More on the geological setting of this area will be covered in a separate blog post where we describe our own fossil hunting efforts in Portugal. The museum also provides an insight into paleontological excavation methods and hosts the preparators’ laboratory, so you can watch people work on newly discovered fossils in real time through a large window [Fig 6].
We received a little tour behind the scenes of the park and talked to the preparators who showed us their current projects and were excited to explain the implications of their latest finds. Since these were of course still unpublished, we had to promise to keep everything secret and thus can’t talk about it. You’ll have to keep an eye out for publications on fossils from that area, it’s exciting stuff! Taped to the window to the preparators’ lab was a little poster saying the preparators accept (unpaid) interns/volunteers and people who are looking for thesis projects, so if you are curious about the topic, and excited about learning how to prepare dinosaur or other fossil material, you can apply for an internship there [Fig 7]. Our tour behind the scenes also included very interesting conversations with some of the people who worked on the life-sized dinosaur reconstructions. We got to observe their work for a little bit: they were in the process of creating a copy of a Torvosaurusgurneyi skull replica [Fig 8].
Even without the tour behind the scenes the Dino Parque is definitely worth a visit. Here are some additional impressions of our visit:
Agathe here – The European Geoscience Union, EGU, a leading learned society in the fields of Earth, Planetary and space sciences, organize each year the largest European conference in geosciences. Due to COVID-19, this year’s conference was entirely virtual. Naturally, attending an online conference is very different from going to one in person: meeting people is less easy and you don’t feel the excitement of being surrounded by your colleagues and friends, not to mention that it is difficult when you are in front of your computer to put your work in progress aside and devote yourself to the conference. I attended the EGU meeting to present results of my PhD work in paleoclimatology, on the evolution of continental climate from the mid-Eocene to the early Oligocene. As it was my first big 100% virtual conference, I would like to give my impressions on the format, a little bit particular, but which will certainly become more and more common in the future.
Part I – Joining a fully virtual conference, what does it look like?
The number of participants at EGU General Assemblies increases from year to year, and this conference format will not have limited participation with 18,155 scientists from 136 countries this year against 16,273 participants from 113 countries in the last edition, in 2019 . In recent years, various movements have developed that promote a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions associated with research activities: first aware of climate change, researchers must adapt their practices to be consistent and follow an energy-saving approach . One of the positive points of this year’s meeting is that without all the flights to Vienna, its carbon imprint was much lower. Last April, the EGU estimated that by organizing a fully virtual conference with 18,000 participants, greenhouse gas emissions of the assembly would be equivalent to less than 0.1% of the same conference in person (despite the video stream) !
Normally, the conference hosts a large number of presentations including posters, 10-minute talks, and “PICOs” (Presenting Interactive COntent®), a format for short digital presentations, specific to the EGU. To give an idea, in 2019, the assembly counted 5531 orals, 9432 posters and 1287 PICOs . In order to give everyone the opportunity to present results to a broad audience, the majority of this year’s presentations were in the form of PICOs, i.e. small 2-min-talks with a single slide! This was the case for my presentation. Fortunately, the EGU website also allowed presenters to add more content, so I also made a 20-minute video to present my work to the most interested speakers. What an exercise! Let’s face it, even if we like challenges, summarizing several months of work in 120 seconds is still a bit frustrating. But with hindsight, I think it was very interesting, reminding me of the 3 minutes thesis competitions, 3MT (these are really nice to see, if you never tried check here ).
First of all, presenting your work in 2 minutes requires a lot of work to be done beforehand. How can I share the problematic and the interest of my work with my audience without presenting the different notions in detail? What are my main results? What is the take-home message? I think being used to talking about your research with your non-academic friends and family may really help. The conference offered the possibility to make this presentation live or to pre-record it. I choose the second option to make mine more accessible, by adding subtitles and to be able to archive it online after the conference. As a non-native speaker, I know that it can sometimes be difficult to follow a whole session of presentations, especially if they are not totally in our research topic, and depending on speakers’ accent. So, it was also an opportunity to make sure that this 2-minute message would get through to as many people as possible who came to listen. Finally, this format was also very interesting for the diffusion of the work. I now have a fairly simple 2-minute video associated with my in-progress publication. It’s still additional work to do, but I think I’ll practice this exercise again next time before I start writing an article, and then why not for its dissemination afterward! In spite of this particular format, moments of exchange were allowed in each session, through dedicated video conference rooms for each presenter. I had the pleasure to meet new researchers, saw friends and colleagues. Like in big music festivals, many sessions are held in parallel at EGU General Assemblies. With shorter, though dense, sessions, I think I was able to see more and a greater diversity of studies.
Part II – Thinking more
In parallel to sessions on my research theme (paleoclimates), which always teach a lot, the EGU offers the possibility to attend special (and longer), oral presentation, the Medal lectures, which allowed me to attend presentations by the eminent (paleo)climatologists Valérie Masson-Delmotte and Kim Cobb, and small courses (useful to nice to refresh one’s geology basics for example). What I really like about the EGU is that the conference also has great sessions (presentations, lectures or debates) about research in general and how to do it, for example: about the role of geosciences in the evolution of the world / about education and communication of science / or about diversity, equity and inclusion in science. This year, I was particularly impressed by two of them:
First, “A Climate and Ecological Emergency: Can a pandemic help save us…?”, with the passionating and super-positive intervention of the climatologist Katharine Hayhoe (see her website which gives a lot of tools to understand and raise awareness about climate change [5,6]), who compared the rapidity of action on a global scale in response to COVID to the persistent lack of action of governments in the face of the ongoing climate crisis, trying to understand the origin of this crisis (ex. The phenomena of psychological distancing: COVID showed us that we could react quickly and limit our emissions, how can we do the same in the face of climate change? I was also particularly interested in the session, “Promoting diversity in geosciences“, which took stock of the lack of diversity and neo-colonial practices within geosciences, and exposed concrete means to set up an anti-racism laboratory [7,8]. Budiman Minasny’s presentation introduced me to the concept of parachute science (aka helicopter research) which is “when researchers from wealthier countries go to a developing country, collect information, travel back to their country, analyze the data and samples, and publish the results with no or little involvement of local researchers“. One can imagine that perhaps some unscrupulous researchers take advantage of local researchers to do unrecognized research assistance work in the field, somewhere far away… There are people with a poor morality in all fields. However, I had never realized (in fact I had never asked myself), that there was a whole grey area with indirect and less obvious ways of misconducting. A striking example was for instance that by working on research questions centered on other countries, without involving local universities, we may grab potential research to local research communities… In my future research, I would like to address questions of macro-evolution on a global scale, although brief, this presentation would clearly have helped me thinking about my future collaborations. As a non-minoritized (although) woman, I am not the best person to talk about this topic, and I certainly still have tons of things to learn to be up to speed, but it is thanks to conferences like these that one learns little by little how to conduct fair science at the scale of one’s lab and internationally, so these should be promoted.
Short conclusion –
As already explained on this blog , attending conferences is very important, especially for young researchers. Thanks to this meeting, I was able to see many presentations, meet researchers in my field, but also question the way I present my work and create materials to share it with more people. The development of this digital format also makes it possible to hold more conferences, especially since some of the smaller ones can be free. Yet, like most researchers, I think, I am looking forward to the experience of real conferences. This experience calls for questioning our practices: since we can do 100% virtual and low carbon conference, how far do we find it acceptable to travel to a conference?
During the summer of 2017, I was an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, NY. The PRI works in conjunction with the Museum of the Earth and neighboring Cayuga Nature Center. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where they share updates on exhibits and virtual events like Science in the Virtual Pub. The Museum of the Earth’s social media also features takeovers from guest scientists and live updates from the prep lab. The museum is currently on a modified schedule during the Covid-19 Pandemic, but you can check their updated hours here. Additionally, the Museum of the Earth has recently started a new initiative in an effort to increase the accessibility of their museum to the community. During Pay-What-You-Wish Weekends, which take place during the first weekend of each month, guests may choose from a range for their admissions cost in place of traditional ticket costs.
As an intern at the PRI, my time in the museum was limited, however, I was sure to take a self guided tour through their exhibits before I was to start next door in the research labs at the PRI. Since that summer, the Museum of the Earth has expanded its collection of in person and online exhibits which you can see the availability of here. These online exhibits and videos are great educational tools while remaining remote. There are many exhibits currently on display at the Museum of the Earth, so I will do my best to highlight a few of my favorites!
The museum as a whole is set up so that the guest experiences a Journey Through Time – an exhibit which comprises the majority of the museum displays. The Museum of the Earth displays fossils ranging from microfossils to the Hyde Park mastodon and those from early life on Earth to present day organisms. These exhibits include the 1.5 meter heteromorph ammonite, Diplomoceras maximum, which was discovered on Seymour Island, Antarctica, and the North Atlantic Right Whale skeleton. Upon entering the museum, guests are greeted by a 44 ft long whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling between the two floors of the museum. North Atlantic Right Whale #2030 passed away in Cape May, New Jersey in 1999 and PRI employees assisted in recovering and cleaning the skeleton, where it was added to the museum in 2002. The skeleton was so big that during construction of the museum, part of the building was left open so that the whale could be brought in via a crane. Guests wrap up their journey through time with the coral reef exhibit, where they can learn about reef ecosystems and discover the importance of the diversity of fish and invertebrates that live within them, and the glaciers exhibit, where they can explore the history of glaciers in the Finger Lakes region.
The Museum of the Earth has a new exhibit that opened in late March – Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology. Not only is this an in-person exhibit on display at the museum until Fall 2021, but it has become permanently available online for those unable to visit Ithaca. This exhibit works to both highlight the achievements and discoveries made by women in paleontology as well as introduce the public to trailblazers and modern voices. This exhibit works in tandem with the recently published children’s book, Daring to Dig: Adventures of Women in American Paleontology, to demonstrate to children and students that science is for everyone. You can learn more about the Daring to Dig Project here.
During non-pandemic times, the museum and PRI host the occasional field trip to local outcrops in upstate New York. As an intern at the PRI, I was able to tag along on these great opportunities. These field trips are open to the public for a fee which provides access to basic supplies that you may need while out at the site as well as the educational experience provided by local experts at the PRI. Be sure to keep an eye on their events page where you can be kept up to date on both virtual and in-person events and activities going on!