Annual Meeting of the German Geological Society

Iris here –

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.

Sara Todorovic, Paleoclimatologist, Ph.D. candidate

The Coral Climatology team, a group of three women and one man standing in front of a brick building with glass windows.
Photo of the Coral Climatology team – (left to right) Sophie Zweifel, former intern; Marie Harbott, doctoral candidate; Dr. Henry Wu, work group leader; and me.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Hi everyone! I am a doctoral candidate at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Bremen, Germany. After graduating in Ecology at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, I finished a MSc in Marine Environment and Resources (MER Erasmus Mundus) at the University of Southampton, University of Liege, and University of Basque Country. Finally, I decided to pursue research in paleoclimate reconstructions in order to improve our knowledge of modern climate change and ocean acidification. I am a part of the Coral Climatology group led by my supervisor Dr. Henry Wu, and funded by the Make our Planet Great Again research initiative, a joint project of France and Germany to tackle modern climate change through research related to Earth system science, climate change and sustainability, and energy transition.

What research are you doing for your PhD? For our research, we use cores drilled from massive tropical corals like Porites (but don’t worry, they are not hurt by this). Only the top few millimeters of the coral is alive, the rest is all skeleton – an intricate rock made of aragonite, as coral polyps keep growing. Cores we work on were drilled during past expeditions so our project is kept more sustainable. After the cores are drilled, the holes are filled so the coral can keep growing safely without fears of other animals infesting it. My project is focusing on the South Pacific area which is  home to the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ), the largest persistent precipitation band in the Southern Hemisphere. The climate of this area is modulated by large-scale ocean-atmospheric interactions (El Niño/Southern Oscillation, Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation), which also impacts regional seawater CO2 absorption and pH variability.

Coral slab microsampling
Photo of me microsampling one of the coral slabs in our lab.

The cores are transported to our coral climatology lab in Bremen, slabbed and washed, X-rayed and CT-d. The scans help us see the annual bands, similar to tree rings, that help us determine how old the corals are to connect our data to points in time, but also help us establish the best sampling path so our data isn’t impacted by corals turning sideways or protruding from the slab etc. Coral skeletal microsamples are then drilled continuously and analyzed for many trace elements and isotopes for hydroclimate and sea surface temperature reconstructions (δ18Oc and sw, Sr/Ca, Li/Mg, U/Ca, Sr-U), while δ13C, B/Ca, and δ11B analysis allows for the reconstruction of surface seawater carbonate chemistry changes and pH variability. It’s truly a lot of work, one core has approximately around 2000 mm samples to be analyzed with two different methods, and then around 250-350 annual samples with a third method.

Boxes of samples
Collection of samples (around a 1000 of them at least) from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in NY, USA to be shipped to Bremen for analysis. 

In this geologically short period of only 300 years or so, important changes have happened in how us humans use natural resources and affect the environment. Our coral-based reconstructions provide monthly to annual data to describe this change as corals have lived through it for hundreds of years, one of them dating back to 1770AD, much before the first instrumental measurements started!  

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Working in science is not a straight line and not easy. When you love what you do, it’s easy to lose boundaries and let it consume you too much. Science is also not only academia, and I am learning myself that there are many options out there. The pressure of short contracts in academia, multiplying deadlines and no work-life separation has led me to burn out before.

Sample preparations for analysis.
Ten samples is all we can analyze in a day for d11B isotope ratios and annual pH reconstruction.

I like to balance my work life with doing sports and running (I am a proud two-time half marathon finisher so far, but I am no stranger to an occasional Netflix marathon either). I am also a big foodie, and whenever work gets a bit too much, baking a cake fixes it. Try to keep in mind that you’re in for a marathon and not for a short race. 

Learn more about Sara and her lab’s research on their website here!

Noel Hernandez Gomez, Paleontologist in Training

A photo of Noel Hernandez sitting on top next to a river coming from a waterfall in the middle of a valley in Mackay Idaho during a field work excursion.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I am an aspiring scientist from birth who loves the outdoors and hopes to make a difference in the world. When I’m not doing research, I prefer to spend my time going out and seeing new things, whether that’d be a new nature trail, or a fun night with friends, there is always something to enjoy about life, which is why I have a strong passion for helping the world and all its beauty.

I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida, on my senior year for a Geology B.S., I have plans to go to Grad school in the future, and hopefully attaining a PhD as my career progresses. My focus is paleontology, and all the research I have done so far is on invertebrate animals, more specifically on crinoid evolution and echinoderms. I am currently performing research on a growth series of eight samples of Erisocrinus typus lead by Whitney Lapic and with the help of Dr. Sarah Sheffield and a previous study of hers. We mostly focus on reading past studies from many authors that talk about the species we are dealing with and examining samples to understand how these animals used to grow. Our goal is to have a publication on this by the end of the year. My goal is to keep doing research such as this for the foreseeable future and perhaps focus on other part of paleontology as well, not just confined to invertebrates.

As discussed previously, my main goal as a scientist is to make a difference in the world, and I chose to do so by studying our past. Growing up, I was surrounded by a country drowned in conflict and turmoil, I took these experiences as motivation to change this, not just for my country, but for the entire world. The change that needs to occur for a better tomorrow, starts with the right information, and science is the pursuit of this information, all facets of science are bound by this uniting principal. My work does not have obvious major implications for our society, but understanding the development of ocean creatures, even those of hundreds of millions of years ago can have contextual importance to our understanding of the oceans today and how global climates have changed in the past. Paleontology focuses on gaining an understanding of the past so that we can have an idea of what our future holds.

A contribution that I hope to make to the scientific community is to facilitate the exchange of information between English speaking scientists and Spanish speaking ones, since my native language is Spanish, and I am fluent in it, my hope is to broaden the range in which paleontology can be talked about and end the age of Eurocentrism for science.

For any up-and-coming scientist, whether they are paleontologists, or any other kind of scientist, I would strongly advise to never limit yourself due to your expectations of what you should be. Scientists are talked about as these unreachable and mighty individuals that hold the infinite knowledge of everything, and this notion can make it difficult sometimes to get in contact with professors or mentors, but the reality is that scientists are just humans, who aren’t perfect, and are just as capable as anyone else, don’t have reservations about reaching out to the members of your college or the faculty of your university, there is always a need for bright minds.

3rd Palaeontological Virtual Congress

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!

To learn more about the Palaeontological Virtual Congress, follow them on Facebook at PalaeoVC, Instagram @palaeovc, and on Twitter @palaeovc!

Newly discovered hatchling sea turtle fossil track marks allow paleontologists to compare ancient sea turtle breeding ranges and climate conditions compared to that of the modern day

New fossil sea turtle trackway morphotypes from the Pleistocene of South Africa highlight role of ichnology in turtle paleobiology

Martin G. Lockley, Hayley C. Cawthra, Jan C. De Vynck, Charles W. Helm, Richard T. McCrea, Ronel Nel

Summarized by Sophia Gutierrez, who is majoring in geology at the University of South Florida. She is currently a senior and plans to pursue some experience in the field before continuing to further her education with a graduate program majoring in sedimentary geology. When she’s not studying geology, she enjoys walking in nature and listening to music.

What data were used? Three coastal sites, showing never before seen fossilized sea turtle hatchling track marks were discovered on the south coast of South Africa originating from the late Pleistocene (~100,000 years ago). Two species of sea turtles were ultimately identified from their trace fossils at the sites as loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelyis coriacea) sea turtles. Some track marks showed multiple “footprints” coming out of a centralized area that could possibly represent the ancient nesting location.

The three coastal S. African sites with never before recorded sea turtle hatchling fossil traces (A) Site 1, 3 loggerhead hatchling track marks, Australochelichnus agulhasii. The 2 track ways on the right show overlap. (B) Site 2, a leatherback turtle hatchling curved trackway, Marinerichnus latus, with red marks to show the lengths of the inner and outer sidelines. (C) Site 3, the long arrows show two sets of loggerhead trackways, Australochelichnus agulhasii, from different hatchlings. The shorter arrow shows an uncertain trace, but this may signify the remains of a nest in the center where the circle is.

 

Methods: This study used two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional (3D) photographed images of the trackways in track sites 1 and 2, not far from each other, showing the sea turtle hatchling trails that were preserved in the large slab of rock. Tracing diagrams were then drawn to illustrate detailed trackway patterns of the two hatchling species. Site 3 fossils were found on a portable boulder. The boulder was photographed and taken to be preserved and studied at a separate location.

Results: After the fossil traces had been properly examined, it was concluded that the sets of tracks found in site 1, on a large slab of rock that had fallen off the side of a cliff, were those from hatchling loggerhead sea turtles. Site 2 is positioned close to site 1 in a narrow cliff pass filled with fallen rock slabs and boulders. One of those slabs holds fossilized hatchling leatherback sea turtle tracks. The final track site was found about 100 km (~62 miles) away from the other two, on a portable boulder that showed newborn loggerhead tracks appearing suddenly from the ground, likely representing the moment the hatchlings traveled out of their nest in the sand. Site 3 is especially interesting because it shows two sets of track marks emerging from the sand but paddling in opposite directions, 180° from each other. Site 2 also shows indications of the hatchling emerging suddenly from the sand but in this case, it’s unclear to say if this suggests a nest or shows signs of inadequate trace fossil preservation. These fossilized loggerhead and leatherback hatchling sea turtle tracks have never been documented before and are fairly distinct from other marine and terrestrial turtle track sites recorded. Due to these reasons, the paleontologists who discovered these tracks may assign these ichnotaxa (a taxonomic group based on the trace fossils of an organism) new, original names: Australochelichnus agulhasii for the hatchling loggerhead tracks and Marinerichnus latus for the hatchling leatherback tracks. These ichnotaxa provide us with copious information about ancient sea turtle breeding ranges, given that both loggerheads and leatherbacks nest in very specific conditions. This gives an insight on how the climate conditions in the late Pleistocene may have been in this area where temperatures were calculated to be about 25° to 35° C with a water level up to 6 meters (20 ft) higher than they are today. The presence of the Marinerichnus latus tracks made by leatherbacks (site 2) so close to the Australochelichnus agulhasii tracks made by loggerheads (site 1) in the area they were found in suggests that the breeding areas for the leatherback were twice as extensive in the Pleistocene than they are today.

Why is this study important? This study allows scientists to combine what is known about modern sea turtle hatchings with what was discovered from fossil tracks from about 100,000 years or so ago. The location that the trace fossils are preserved in can reveal to scientists the environmental and climatic conditions of the late Pleistocene, which could broaden the understanding of naturally changing climates of the past and the rapidly increasing climate change in the present day. Along with that, due to the close range of the leatherback and loggerhead turtle fossil nest sites in sites 1 and 2, this study demonstrated that modern breeding ranges of both leatherback and loggerheads have been halved in the past 100,000 years.

The big picture: This paper studied the ichnological evidence (the trace fossils made by an organism at the time it is alive) made by two distinct species of hatchling sea turtles. Scientists related the breeding ranges of modern sea turtles to the ancient breeding ranges they observed at the fossil sites and suggested the climate of the late Pleistocene ranged from 25° to 35° C and had sea levels up to 6 meters (20 ft). As of 2021, loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and leatherback sea turtles are vulnerable species. This study could potentially help future populations of these species due to the new knowledge of ancient breeding ranges relative to the specific nesting conditions.

Citation: Lockley, M. G., Cawthra, H. C., De Vynck, J. C., Helm, C. W., McCrea, R. T., Nel, R. 2019. . Quaternary Research 1–15. https:// doi.org/10.1017/qua.2019.40

Brittany N. Price, Paleoclimatologist

Brittany, a brown-haired woman, wearing PPE while working on a gas bench in Northern Illinois Universities Stable Isotope Laboratory.
Brittany wearing personal protective equipment while working on a gas bench in Northern Illinois University’s Stable Isotope Laboratory

Similar to many children, I was always fascinated by volcanos! The dynamic way in which they change the landscape inspired me to pursue a degree in geology. While this interest and appreciation of volcanoes has never faded, a new specialty piqued my interest in my second year at university – Paleoclimatology. The idea that the past climate history of the earth could be reconstructed over millions of years by analyzing the chemical makeup of microfossils preserved in oceanic sediments quickly made me alter my focus, and subsequently my entire career trajectory! I spent the next three years working in the Paleoclimatology and Stable Isotope Geochemistry labs at the University of Miami to prepare forams (microfossils) from the Gulf of Papua (off the coast of Papua New Guinee) for stable oxygen and carbon analysis to better understand the influence of sea level, as well as variability in the East Asian Monsoon system in the western Tropical Pacific.

Fast forward almost 15 years and I am nearing the completion of my PhD. I now focus on terrestrial records that I use to assess variability in hydroclimate dynamics (i.e. rainfall) over the Holocene around the Pacific Ocean Basin. My current projects include a wide variety of locations and proxy data, from establishing chronologies of glacial advancement and recession in the South-Central Chilean Andes, to carbonate isotope reconstructions from small lake basins in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Moving forward I hope to work on better constraining the roles that aridity and convection play in the global hydroclimate system through the use of stable isotopes, as well as to reconstruct better land-based temperature proxy records. It is truly amazing to witness the analytical advances that have been made even during my relatively short career as a geoscientist!

Brittany, wearing full PPE including a face shield, working to decant hydrofluoric acid from samples used for cosmogenic chlorine-36 dating.

If I were to give one piece of advice to aspiring geologists it would be that no two paths look that same, so it is best not to compare yourself to others! There are so many interesting careers in our discipline, and it is alright to explore them. After I completed my undergraduate education, I continued on for my Masters in Geology. While I had wanted to work on terrestrial sediment cores, I ended up working on a basin analysis project using seismic reflection data. Having this skill set opened avenues that I hadn’t originally considered for myself, and led to a job offer and a career working in the oil and gas industry for 8 years. However, I realized that I was still truly inspired and passionate about Paleoclimatology, and that I still had so much more I wanted to learn. I decided to leave the workforce, and as a more mature student (at least 10 years older than the average age of my cohort) I entered the PhD program at Northern Illinois University. Returning to the world of Paleoclimatology has been one of the best and most fulfilling experiences of my adult life, even if the path I took to get here was a bit longer than most.

Brittany, woman in a wide-brimmed hat and fleece jacket, on a snow-covered field in front of a small cirque glacier
Brittany on a snow-covered field in front of a small cirque glacier.

Scavenging, Cannibalism, and Survival in Jurassic Utah

High frequencies of theropod dinosaur bite marks provide evidence for feeding, scavenging, and possible cannibalism in a stressed Late Jurassic ecosystem

Stephanie K. Drumheller, Julia B. McHugh, Miriam Kane, Anja Riedel, Domenic C. D’Amore

Summarized by Reynolds Hansen. Reynolds Hansen is an undergraduate geography major / geology minor at the University of South Florida. With a lifelong passion for paleontology instilled from an early age, Reynolds always knew the academic path ahead had a singular destination. Along the way, he picked up equal affinities for history and geography, and by the time he was in college, he worried he might have to choose one over the others. With the help of the university’s esteemed academic professionals and resources, he shifted focus with the goal of becoming a science communicator, telling the story of our world from the formation of the earth to the modern day as an interconnected narrative. Reynolds is set to graduate in the spring of 2021, after which he wishes to seek a post-graduate degree in paleontology, and a career as an educator. His academic focus is utilizing GIS to research paleoecological phenomena.

Methods: The study collected fossil data from the Upper Jurassic Mygatt-Moore Quarry in Utah, USA (MMQ). Out of 2,368 found specimens, 684 specimens positively displayed some damage resulting from contact with theropod dinosaur teeth. These damages were categorized into broad categories- pits, punctures, scores, and furrows (Fig 1.) The dimensions of these features, along with spacing between them, measured from raking light (light shone upon an object at a low angle in order to more easily observe details on its surface) and low magnification, helped the team to determine the species responsible for the damages. The marks here were also compared to identical features left by large, modern mammalian predators to determine intent- where on the body the animal was removing material, and whether this was done during predation of scavenging. These marks are considered in relation to ‘low’ and ‘high’ economy regions- meaning, the parts of prey animals that provide low or high nutritional benefit respectively. The goal of these methods was to determine the extent of scavenging behaviors among theropods- a group of mostly carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs with hollow bones and three-toed limbs. The theropods in question in this region were primarily Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus.

A. Striations produced by teeth on Allosaurus claw. B. ‘Score’ left on an Allosaur vertebral centrum. C. ‘Score’ left on Apatosaurus rib fragment. D. Group of ‘furrows’ on an Apatosaurus pubis (part of the hip). E. ‘Puncture’ (white arrow) and ‘pit’ (yellow arrow) on an Allosaurus caudal (near the tail) vertebral centrum. F. dense group of ‘furrows’ on an Apatosaurus ischium (part of the hip). All scale bars are equal to 10mm.

Results: As in many cases, predation behavior is often dictated by environmental conditions. In the MMQ, sediment suggests an environment with low deposition rates, allowing for animal remains to be exposed for longer periods of time, which consequently allows for remains to be scavenged repeatedly. Tooth striations on the formation’s fossils suggests typical theropod behavior was targeting soft tissues near high-economy regions (regions that provide the most nutritional benefit). However, just less than half of all marks on herbivores are also located in low-economy regions, indicating that remains were stripped of any possible material by large theropods. These statistics flip when tooth marks are found on theropod remains, where more than half of the tooth marks are found in low-economy regions. Together, these findings may suggest that aside from remains being present for longer periods of time, the region may have also been prone to periods of nutritional hardship, leading to cannibalism among theropods when scavenging, and possibly even predation. For any of the theropods present in this ecosystem (Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, and possibly Saurophaganax or Torvosaurus), these occurrences would mark the first recorded cases of cannibalism for these species, implying a need that is situational in times of hardship, rather than a trait reserved to specific species.

Why is this study important? The importance of this work is twofold. In the first manner, it provides insight into an area that is integral to understanding an extinct carnivorous animal: how it eats. The paper mentions on a couple of occasions that, to date, the conventional understanding of how theropods acquire nutrition was by focusing primarily, maybe even exclusively, on soft-body materials- the aforementioned ‘high economy’ zones. There had been little evidence up to this point for scavenging behavior among theropods, aside from some works regarding this behavior in tyrannosaurs, although even this was at least partially inferred to the development of osteophagy (the ability to eat and derive nutrients from bones) in these animals. So too with cannibalism, where Majungasaurus represented the only known case, again, for tyrannosaurs. With this study, theropods appear to resemble something more within the norm of how we understand most carnivores to behave: opportunistic consumers who take advantage of ‘free’ scavenge-able meals where they could get them, and who are none too picky in troublesome times. The second point of importance, and perhaps light criticism, from this piece is the allusion to the practice of fossil collection by institutions. The question is raised by the paper: if this behavior were to be commonplace, why is there so little evidence of it? The MMQ had recently undergone a transition of collection practices, from selective collecting to a more total method, taking in as many specimens as possible without too much scrupulousness for overall quality. The team cites this change as a likely reason for the abundance of tooth-marked fossils in the study, since they were not tossed aside preemptively for not being ‘aesthetically pleasing’, ‘good quality’ fossils.

The Big Picture: This paper does as much to reflect on paleontological research practices as it reveals about theropod behavior. On one hand, its revelations of how theropods survive difficult times by extensively scavenging every possible resource- and apparently from any source- is certainly a tremendous leap in this field for dinosaur behavior. The other side of the coin is that this study may not have had such diverse results if it were not for size and breath of the MMQ’s sampling. The commentary from the paper is subtle but cautionary: that we should aim to eliminate bias at every opportunity in research, but also in our very initial collection efforts.

Citations: 

Drumheller SK, McHugh JB, Kane M, Riedel A, D’Amore D. 2020. High frequencies of theropod bite marks provide evidence for feeding, scavenging, and possible cannibalism in a stressed Late Jurassic ecosystem. PLOS ONE 15(5):e0233115

Rogers, Raymond R.; Krause, David W.; Curry Rogers, Kristina (2007). “Cannibalism in the Madagascan dinosaur Majungatholus atopus”. Nature. 422 (6931): 515–518

Benjamin Keenan, Biogeochemist

Photo showing Benjamin in the foreground with a volcano erupting the background
Benjamin during an eruption of Volcán de Fuego or Chi Q’aq’ in Guatemala

Hello everyone. I am a biogeochemist who uses ancient molecules found in lake sediments to investigate interactions between humans and their environment. I am finishing a PhD in biogeochemistry at McGill in Montréal, Québec. I like skiing and ice skating, jazz, and when the earth is not frozen over I spend my lot of time bike-camping and swimming outdoors. I moved to Canada after a degree in geological sciences in England/California and working as an environmental consultant, a water engineer, and as a research assistant at the Complutense University of Madrid.

My current research looks at how the lowland Maya interacted with their environment and how they responded to climate change over 3,300 years. I take samples from Central America, extract organic molecules known as lipids and analyse them using different methods. I use plant waxes as a proxy for vegetation and hydrological change (how wet or dry it was) in the past, polycyclic aromatic carbons (from the incomplete combustion of carbon) as a proxy for biomass burning the past, and faecal stanols as proxies for population change.

My first chapter shows that population declines in the southwest Maya lowlands are associated not only with drought at multiple times throughout history, but also with anomalously wet periods, and has also highlighted potential efforts to reduce soil erosion as well as the use of night soil (human waste) as fertiliser in the past. This work attracted a lot of media interest, including from the CBC, Haaretz, El Mundo, and Archaeology Magazine, and will be vulgarised in the magazine Le Climatoscope. It also forms part of the chapter “Climate Change and Variability in the Protoclassic” in Remaking Maya Civilization, Social and Political Transformations in the Protoclassic Maya Lowlands.

Benjamin wearing a striped shirt, shorts and wellington boots in a tree over a cliff reaching out to collect leaves for analyses
Benjamin in the field in Guatemala collecting leaves for plant wax analyses

Now I am in the process of writing my thesis, which I will submit in December, and working with a digital artist to create a virtual Itzan, the archaeological site where the samples I have analysed were taken from. I think it is important for people to know that ancient societies were affected by climate change and by looking at responses to environmental change in the past how we might better understand anthropogenic climate change today and in the future. I am particularly interested in migration as climate change adaptation and am a member of the McGill Refugee Research Group.

Most students are fortunate enough to be on campuses with interesting seminars and public lectures in different departments that you can attend and make connections between your interests, your research and what is happening in different areas and at different scales. This is interesting and can be fruitful, and helps prevent you from getting stuck in the rut of your niche bit of research. Attending talks in anthropology, geography, and social sciences has given me new perspectives for my thesis, where the question I am researching requires an interdisciplinary approach.

Figure from Keenan et al. (2021) showing population change in the context of palaeoclimate and changes in pollen (a proxy for deforestation).

Examining Cryolophosaurus: Shedding Light on a Little-Known and Important Jurassic Dinosaur

An enigmatic theropod Cryolophosaurus: Reviews and comments on its paleobiology

By: Changyu Yun

Summarized by Ohav Harris, a geology major at the University of South Florida and is currently a junior. He plans to pursue a doctorate degree in paleontology and become a paleo-educator in some capacity, either working in a museum or a university. In his free time, Ohav enjoys collecting Pokémon cards, reading manga, and fishing.

What data were used? The author, Yun, used many previously published peer reviewed papers to review and evaluate the ideas that exist regarding Cryolophosaurus’s evolutionary relationships, or phylogenetics. The only known fossil data for this dinosaur are hip fragments, various vertebrae, rib fragments, femurs, part of its foot, and the holotype (the fossil that the description of the genus/species is based on), which include the skull and neck vertebrae – all of which were found in Antarctica. The sparse remains of Cryolophosaurus make it difficult to make definitive statements of its relationship to other theropods (bipedal dinosaurs that are primarily carnivorous), though researchers are confident that it is a theropod. Yun includes an array of possibilities from various sources that attempt to answer the question of this dinosaur’s phylogeny and examines what fossil data of Cryolophosaurus there are to make comments on its ecology and biology.

Methods: Yun analyzes Cryolophosaurus’ anatomy and geographical placement, makes comparisons to better known dinosaurs, and references scientific papers that discuss this Cryolophosaurus to draw conclusions regarding its possible phylogeny, ecology, and biology. Certain features of this animal, like the shape of its skull, the structure of its feet, and the purpose of its skull crest, are discussed and used to support Yun’s claims of the nature of Cryolophosaurus.

Reconstruction of Cryolophosaurus by Daniel Goitom. The defining crest is boldly colored, so as to attract the attention of a mate. Cryolophosaurus’s primitive, needle-like feathers would have been an excellent source of thermal insulation in the Antarctic climate in which it lived.

Results: While the exact phylogeny of Cryolophosaurus is tricky, and not yet fully understood, there are a few things that can be said about it. The skull of Cryolophosaurus has features of tetanurans, dinosaurs that are more closely related to modern birds, like Allosaurus, and earlier, more primitive therapods like Ceratosaurus. Tetanurans and Ceratosaurus are closely related, but took different evolutionary paths. The tetanurans are made up of two groups, carnosaurs and coelurosaurs, which contain a majority of the most famous therapods like Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus respectively, and all modern birds (descending from the coelurosaurs). Because Cryolophosaurus’ skull has both features of tetanurans and earlier theropods, it can be inferred that it is a transitional fossil that links the first theropods in the Jurassic and all subsequent therapods and modern birds. It is also likely that, based on its shared features between both theropod groups, Cryolophosaurus is an early tetanuran. This possibility is briefly discussed in the paper. It was also determined that Cryolophosaurus was an apex predator in its Antarctic environment, able to make swift movements and out-speed its prey to capture them. This is based on the animal’s astragalus (the bone in the foot between the shin and tarsals) and calcaneum (the bone just under the astragalus that forms the heel) being fused through ossification, or the growth of new bone material. Because dinosaurs walked on their tiptoes, this would not affect their stability as it would for humans. Additionally, those two bones are located right next to each other in dinosaur feet, which means that Cryolophosaurus only had one “ankle” bone where it would usually have had two. Taphonomic evidence (relating to the processes a body undergoes after death, including fossilization), supports the idea of Cryolophosaurus being an apex predator, as herbivore teeth have been found in its stomach. Sauropods, the long-necked dinosaurs, have also been found in the same formation as Cryolophosaurus, which could suggest they were also potential prey. Interestingly, the Cryolophosaurus holotype was found disarticulated with shed teeth nearby. These teeth are believed to have belonged to another Cryolophosaurus, suggesting that this dinosaur may have had cannibalistic tendencies. The characteristic crest of the dinosaur (Fig. 1) is believed to have been used as a display for attracting mates, with differences in bodily characteristics between males and females.

Why is this study important? Cryolophosaurus is an important dinosaur for theropod evolution because it is likely a transitional fossil connecting the earliest therapods to the tetanurans that came after. Understanding this dinosaur’s place in the phylogeny of theropods is important because it can elucidate various unknowns about their evolution. Cyrolophosaurus’ environment was also unique, being the only therapod yet discovered in Antarctica, which was a colder climate than what other dinosaurs in the Jurassic were living in. This provides a new perspective into dinosaur ecology, particularly through the lens of dinosaurs adapted for colder climates.

The big picture: Dinosaur paleontology is generally regarded by the public as being centered around the most popular Late-Cretaceous genera like Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Velociraptor without much consideration for their ecology or even other dinosaurs from different periods. This study sheds light on one such lesser-known dinosaur, Cryolophosaurus, and states its importance to the phylogeny of theropod dinosaurs as well as its ecological role. Understanding the “niche” and lesser known dinosaurs is extremely important to the understanding of dinosaur paleontology, as those dinosaurs often provide much insight, not only into their evolution and development, but also to the unique nature and attributes of dinosaurs as a whole.

Citation: Yun, Changyu, 2020. An enigmatic theropod Cryolophosaurus: Reviews and comments on its paleobiology. VOLUMINA JURASSICA, 2019, XVII: 103–110

My Experience at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Ohav here–

Earlier in the spring, I got an email containing a flyer for an internship that grabbed my attention with a simple question: “Do you like dinosaurs and digging in the dirt?”. As an aspiring paleontologist, I thought, to no surprise, “I love both of those things!”, and I looked into the offer further. A few references and an interview later, I had managed to get a position! That May, I would be going to Thermopolis, Wyoming.

When I started my first day, I was surprised at how dense with information the museum was. I knew that being in a small town, the museum would be much smaller than its contemporaries. Even so, I was not prepared for the amount of stuff in that building! Still in awe of all the beautiful specimens in the main hall, the other interns and I began our orientation. There were a handful of programs and activities available which we would work together to lead, the following of which were the most common.

First, were the Museum Tours: the most basic of the activities, but by no means the least fun. It is exactly as it sounds: a tour of the museum. However, we interns were allowed and encouraged to put our own personal spins on them. This meant making our own scripts, deciding which exhibits to focus more on and which can be breezed through, cherry-picking the coolest fun facts to share with our groups, and even including pop culture references. For example, we would often describe the length of our Supersaurus, Jimbo, by using the metric of Jeff Goldblums. Since Jimbo is 120 feet long and Jeff Goldblum is 6’4’’, we estimated that Jimbo was about 19 Jeff Goldblums long. This went over particularly well with those familiar with his iconic role in Jurassic Park.

Second, were the Bus Tours. The Bus Tours were also simple: drive a van full of people up the mountains of the Morrison Formation to our most significant dig site, Something Interesting (SI), and give them a tour of the place. The tour, in short, was a look through a window to about 150 million years ago, and explored not only the dinosaurs found there, but also the geochemistry and even the seasonality of prehistoric Thermopolis.

Third, were the Shovel Readies, which involved taking group(s) up the mountain to one of our four active sites to dig for a few hours. These would occur either in the morning or the afternoon.

Fourth, and my favorite activity of all, was the Dig For a Day program, or DFD. DFDs were a combination of the previous activities plus an expedition to the Sundance Formation, which underlies the Morrison and yields marine fossils. A DFD day would start with an SI tour, followed by a few hours of digging at one of our sites, then lunch, then prospecting (looking for new fossil sites) at Sundance. Although most guests found dinosaurs more interesting than the marine invertebrates, the promise of being able to keep whatever invertebrate fossils they found sweetened the deal. Finally, after the Sundance, we would conclude the day with a museum tour, which included a sneak peek into our collections and prep lab.

Working with so many wonderful people, who themselves are amazing scientists, was an unforgettable experience. Living with them added to the overall experience too, as we all got to know each other quite well, making the group dynamics all the more interesting. Of course, this is expected from a group of people who love dinosaurs and other prehistoric life spending seven weeks together in the same house. More than anything, though, I loved being able to teach guests about the history of life. Because the museum exhibits were organized with a “tour through time” in mind, it was especially easy and fun to walk guests through the steps life took to get to where we are today. In addition to teaching, I was able to learn a lot. The other interns’ tours alone allowed me to gleam a significant amount of information and insight, since their versions always had things I didn’t know in them. Beyond the tours, I learned much from the museum staff who trained us, learning how to find pathologies and taphonomies in fossils from the head prep lab manager and how to find and map them in the field from the dig site manager. In the lab especially, I came to see some of the most interesting things which made me think more and more about the intricacies of dinosaur morphology and what pathologies that they may have developed.

My biggest take-away from my internship was being able to learn from so many people and being able to pass that knowledge on to others. I was extremely fortunate to work in such an amazing establishment and learn so much, as well as make so many good friends. Going up the mountains of the Morrison, nearly every day for seven weeks, was something I won’t forget. Walking where the dinosaurs walked and digging their remains, and being able to educate all the while, was a small taste of what I hope to do in the future. Now, I must say: if you ever find yourself on a road-trip to Yellowstone or otherwise find yourself in Wyoming, please take the time to stop by the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum in Thermopolis. This hidden gem has much to offer, and the town is charming too!