Sunday, September 27, 2009

SVP 2009 Bristol, and the Romer Prize Session

Despite the complaints that I've heard about the hills and distances from one session to another (come on, it was only a few minutes by foot!), SVP this year was pretty good, in my opinion anyway. I noticed some really good talks with some impressive analytical methods, some really interesting posters, and I also chatted with some intelligent and enthusiastic people.

Of particular interest for me was the Romer Prize Session - not only because I was presenting, but more because Romer Session talks were almost always of high quality research, self-contained and conclusive (unlike some "on-going research", a new locality, or some more scrappy fossils...). Romer talks tend to be more analytically/numerically oriented so there are some stats and numbers to support certain ideas and claims.

There were two talks in particular that I liked, one by my very good friend Tai Kubo (Evolution of limb posture in terrestrial tetrapods inferred from Permian and Triassic trackways), and the other by the Romer Prize winner, Christian Kammerer (Effects of the Permio-Triassic mass extinction on synapsids).

Kubo's talk was on his study using trace fossils to infer limb posture in tetrapods, which on its own is quite unique already because there has been really limited efforts on using trace fossils as a potential source of data. But what makes his research truly unique was his validation of his metrics using observations of limb posture in extant reptiles and their relationship with trackways. His results are already published so I shan't go into the details but his conclusion is that the shift to an erect limb posture occurred rapidly in the Early Triassic much earlier than predicted previously by body fossils.

And on to Krammerer. I really liked his talk. The methodology was robust, statistics were sound, and above all, the sample size was just pure astonishing. One of the things I found rather exciting about his talk was that his results showed that geologically deformed skulls fall within the range of morphospace occupation (albeit perhaps at the extreme margins) expected for that species. This, I think is a significant discovery; although you'd still need a sufficient enough sample size to say that this is true for your own pet group of fossils as well... In any case, I really admire his work and his talk and I think he rightfully won the Romer Prize. So a very big congratulations to Christian Krammerer, and it is a shame I had not had the opportunity to do this in person at the conference (yes, I couldn't find half the people I wanted to meet because of the disparate locations).

All in all, a successful conference (for me): I met half the people I was meant to meet; I met some new people; I learned some new things; I caught up with a bunch of friends and colleagues that I had not seen in months, some I had not seen since our last meeting at Cleveland; and perhaps the most important aspect of the meeting for me, I disseminated my work in front of a large audience. I didn't get much feed back on my talk but I assume either no one really liked it or that no one really understood what I do...


Nick Gardner said...

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to go this year, heh, even though I heard that it wasn't that pleasant this time around... best wishes for Pittsburgh I guess.

Manabu "Mambo-Bob" Sakamoto said...

Well, the poster session was rather suffocating...but that's what you'd expect when we hold a major conference at Bristol Uni; we don't have a big centralised campus, but rather, the buildings are spread out across town. At least we had Chemistry, Wills Memorial Bldg, and Victoria Rooms for the conference, some of the Arts departments actually have lectures in converted houses.

I complain a lot about how hilly Bristol is, but compared to the rest of town, the University area is relatively flat: Chemistry is only a few stair cases and a short slope away from Wills, while the Victoria Rooms are only about 10 min walk on flat ground from Wills because we're already up on top of the hill.

Perhaps, London, Cambridge or Oxford may have been better equipped to host such a large meeting, but given the decision was already made to host it here, I think the organisers did a damn good job of pulling it together - I was fearing it would be a disaster, but I found it to be only of mild inconvenience...