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Reflexiónes de SVP 2000

(Dick Peirce's comments on SVP, copied to the list by permission - mk)

Reflexiónes de SVP 2000 

Expectations and Setting. 
    Last year at Denver I heard some talk about passing up this one in Mexico 
City. Perhaps this stemmed from people's doubts about the location. It was 
amusing to see several of those who had said they would be skipping show up in 
Mexico City. In fact this year's registration was around 500 about half or less 
of that of recent SVPs. Those who stayed home missed a great meeting, excellent 
accommodations and services, nice people, and 3500 years of great cultural 
artifacts and monuments to visit. And a chance to bump into Vicente Fox and 
Jesse Ventura. The air was clear on Tuesday, but by Saturday it looked more 
like L.A. 
    I encountered only one logistical snafu. I came down on the same plane as 
Don Prothero so knew in advance of the problem securing poster boards of the 
right shape. However, once set up, the poster numbers were all out of order 
which made finding all the ones I wanted to see impractical. 

Who was and wasn't there. 
    With over 150 talks and a like number of posters, most attendees were 
presenters rather than looky-loos like me. I kept running into the same faces 
over and over. The meeting had an intimate feel about it It was very easy to 
meet people. There was plenty of opportunity to get to talk with everyone I 
wanted to and to meet lots of new folks. Quite a few of the big dino guns were 
not there: Bakker, Brett-Surman, Buffetaut, Carpenter, Farlow, Horner, Lockley, 
Lucas, Novas, Olshevsky, Padian, Sereno, ...  Even so there were a lot of dino 
presentations (more later). And I had the pleasure of meeting Rudolfo Coria and 
Dong Zhiming (who hasn't received the publicity he deserves here in the West). 
    There was a good turnout from Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, 
Mexico, ... and a corresponding number of presentations on the paleontology of 
those areas. I made the acquaintance of several Mexicans including two eager 
young men who are keen on theropods. I introduced them to Currie and Holtz. 
Maybe seeds will take root from those or some of the introductions I managed to 
    There was a good group from Japan including Mahito Watabe. He works at the 
Hayashibara Museum which has been running annual expeditions to the Gobi of 
Mongolia since 1993. At the silent auction I obtained Vol 1 of their Research 
Bulletin (ISSN 1345-7225). It admirably summarizes the details of their 
expeditions (people, places, finds and progress of their study), a type of 
report that other institutions would do well to emulate. 

    It seemed to me that a lot of dino papers were about functional 
interpretations of anatomy. John Anton showed that ceratopsian frills could 
have been amplifiers &/or receivers of low frequency sounds.  Akersten & Trost 
proposed that sauropods supported their necks in part with paravertebral air 
sacs.  John Hutchinson argued that T. rex walked erect rather than crouched.  
Emily Rayfield analyzed the forces acting on Allosaur's skull and concluded 
that, while it had a relatively weak bite, it was well designed to absorb 
impacts of chomping and tugging.  Chris Organ said that paravertebral tendons 
of ornithopods are particularly designed to limit dorso-ventral flexion, and 
Donald Henderson described why large ornithopods developed wide feet.  Alan 
Gishlick explained that the maniraptoran wrist was not designed for climbing 
and concluded with "keep them on the ground."  Scott Hartman proposed that a 
maniraptoran with feathers at the ends of its forelimbs and tail (like Caudipt!
eryx) would have been able to al
ter its trajectory in mid leap at its prey. Thus feathers may have originated 
as steering aids to cursorality. ...  Some of the ideas of these and other 
presentations may fade while others lead to fresh avenues of research. I leave 
those judgments to others. But, again, it did seem to me that there were more 
than the usual number of papers addressing the question, "how did it work?" 
    There were lots of the other types of dino papers too.  Britt, Chure, Holtz 
et al. had a poster showing that a caudally extending pubic boot grows 
ontogenetically in ceratosaurs, and thus it may not be as diagnostic a 
tetanuran character as we've thought.  Josh Smith talked of a big basal 
titanosaur the Penn team has found in Egypt.  Chris Brochu dispelled some of 
the popular notions about "Sue:" the discovery of a 1st chevron casts doubt on 
the popular idea of how to sex a rex, and that piece of "tyrannosaur tooth" 
embedded in "Sue's" side turns out to be a misplaced piece of cortical bone. 
Bone growth around caudal vertebrae 25 & 26 has formed a natural mold of tail 
musculature [a feature clearly visible in the cast of "Sue" now on display at 
the NHM of Los Angeles].  Gauthier & Gishlick (Alan speaking), in a nifty piece 
of reanalysis of the original specimen of Compsognathus, discovered that what 
had been called the "left metacarpus I" is in fact phalanx 1 of digit I, a!
nd that the "mystery bone" well 
above the skull is the misplaced left metacarpus I.  Cathy Forster spoke to 
questions about Rahonavis & Vorona and concluded from bones and taphonomy that 
the forearm element in question actually does belong to Rahonavis.  Burge et 
al. (Chure speaking) reported that titanosaur, camarasaur, and brachiosaur 
remains are found in the basal member of the Cedar Mt. Fm. (Barremian) only 
brachiosaurs are found in the upper 2 members (Albian-Cenomanian). They propose 
a faunal turnover between those 2 times.  Jim Clark et al. told of 2 new 
species of oviraptor, "A" & "B", from Mongolia bringing the number of species 
in Asia to 6.  You & Dodson (Peter speaking) propose a new cladogram for the 
basal ceratopsians: the Protoceratopsidae are restricted to Asia, while the 
Ceratopsoidea (which includes the large ceratopsids) are restricted to No. 
America. ...  And "H.P." Holtz, in addition to allowing me to take his picture 
beside his poster, also gave a talk on [surprise!] theropod phylogeny.!
 He tried cladograms using all t
he data and ones which eliminated those taxa based on fragmentary remains. He 
argued that the elegance gained by the latter does not make up for the data 
lost from the former. And he added, use less derived  members of outgroups for 
comparison. Eg., Allosaurus is often used as the out taxon for coelurosauran 
trees. However it is fairly derived and he suggested trying Sinoraptor instead. 
    And there were some neat papers a bit or more removed from dinos.  Stuart 
Sumida described the earliest known (very Early Permian) exclusively 
terrestrial vertebrate ecosystem (from central Germany) with a very low large 
predator to large prey ratio. [The same site yielded the facultative biped 
Eudibamus. Science, 3 NOV 2000.]  When I was 5 or 6 I was taken on my first 
paleontological outing to the La Brea Tar Pits, so I couldn't resist Robert 
Lamond's talk on Smilodon (saber tooth cat) sabers. I was well rewarded for my 
sentimentality. His study concludes from several angles that the sabers were 
more for male dominance displays than they were for hunting. [Another "how did 
it work" paper.] 
    I noted only 2 or 3 papers that touched on the origin of flight. That hot 
topic was off the burner at this meeting. Another de-emphasized topic was the 
K/T extinction. As mentioned earlier, there were a good number of papers about 
paleontology south of the border. Most Mexican vert paleo has concentrated on 
the Cenozoic. But the field there is still young and there was plenty of 
evidence that Mexico has a great dinosaur future ahead of it. 

Odds & Ends in response to previous posts. 
    President-elect Vicente Fox (he will be inaugurated Dec.1) has been the 
governor of the state of Guanajuato, 100 miles NW of Mexico City. 
    A photographer always regrets those lost shots. And because I didn't linger 
at the banquet, I didn't get to discover how great a dancer Mary Kirkaldy is. 
    A number of new finds were mentioned and illustrated, but Tom Holtz is 
right, there were no stunning revelations, unless you count "Dave" or the 
curious new sauropod skull on Dan Chure's laptop. Hopefully people are saving 
up their bombshells for Bozeman. 
    I too gave that "venomous theropod" tooth a long close look. I have nothing 
to add (or detract) to Nick Longrich's excellent description posted on Nov. 7. 
BTW, his Alvarezsaurs as aardoraptors poster may have gotten their front end 
right, but what DID they do with those long hind legs? 

    In conclusion, it was a very worthwhile and valuable experience. I look 
forward to reading the reports and reminisces of others who were there. 

    ...   Dick Peirce, Pasadena, California. 28/11/00.