Monday, December 26, 2011

New Fossil Species of 2011 - A PLoS ONE Retrospective

What do sauropods, primates, crabs, cats, and crocodiles have in common? They're all animals in the fossil record that had new species named in PLoS ONE this year!

Chela (claw) of Geograpsus severnsi, from Paulay & Starmer, 2011

As 2011 winds down, I'm going to devote two posts to some navel-gazing at paleontology in the online, open access journal PLoS ONE. PLoS ONE really has been a ground-breaking publication, partly responsible for spawning the term "megajournal" as well as inspiring clones from the very publishers who invested some effort over the past few years in downplaying the worth of the PLoS ONE publishing model.

[Note before we continue: Although I do have an "official" volunteer role as one of the academic and section editors for the journal, any opinions in this post are entirely my own.]

Skull of Arenysuchus gascabadiolorum, from Puértolas et al., 2011

In any case, let's start our 2011 retrospective with a look at some of the new taxonomy that appeared this year. 17 new species of extinct organism were named on the "pages" of PLoS ONE this year, but these were not by any means distributed evenly across the tree of life.

Five out of 17 were mammals, only one was a non-vertebrate (a lonely, recently extinct land crab from Hawaii), and three - THREE!!! - were sauropodomorph dinosaurs. What kind of crazy world is this where sauropodomorph taxa outnumber crocodylimorphs, and arthropods? Dinosaurs as a whole did quite well, with seven new non-avian dinosaurs gracing the HTML code of PLoS ONE.

New Fossil Taxa Named in PLoS ONE - 2011
Arenysuchus gascabadiolorum (crocodyliform)
Boutakioutichnium atlasicus (theropod footprint)
Gaudeamus aslius (rodent)
Gaudeamus hylaeus (rodent)
Geograpsus severnsi (crab)
Kawichthys moodiei (chondrichthyan)
Khoratpithecus ayeyarwadyensis (primate)
Leonerasaurus taquetrensis (sauropodomorph)
Leyesaurus marayensis (sauropodomorph)
Linhevenator tani (troodontid)
Lycophocyon hutchisoni (carnivoramorph mammal)
Panthera zdanskyi (felid)
Paravipus didactyloides (theropod footprint)
Pissarrachampsa sera (crocodyliform)
Talos sampsoni (troodontid)
Tapuiasaurus macedoi (sauropod)
Tonsala buchanani (bird)

In 2012, I would love to see the following trends:
  • An expansion in the number of new taxa published in PLoS ONE (assuming that high scientific standards are maintained - no junk taxa, please).
  • Greater diversity in the taxonomic groups represented. Archosaurs are cool and all, but where are the plants? Where are the brachiopods? This will probably just take time, and perhaps a pioneer in each field of study to raise awareness of the journal. I first seriously considered publishing in PLoS ONE because a high-profile dinosaur worker published there, and I suspect other folks in other fields have similar thoughts.
  • More authors taking advantage of the format of PLoS ONE when submitting their new taxonomy. With few or no practical limits on figures (color, size, number) and text, every new description could potentially (and should, with few exceptions) get the monographic treatment. I am happy to say that most authors did just this, but there is always room for improvement!

Skull of Tapuiasaurus macedoi, from Zaher et al., 2011

In the next post: PLoS ONE is now a major force in paleontological publishing. What were the overall trends in 2011? What might the future bring?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Paleo Project Challenge

I've been woefully behind in promoting this (and Dave Hone has taken the lead in hosting it this year - thank you, Dave!), but it is time to get on with the 2011 Paleo Project Challenge. Got a nagging little project that just requires a few days of concentrated effort to finish? Quit the excuses, and just get it done! That's the whole point of this. Whether it's research, artwork, a curation project, or whatever, anything is fair game.

Dave Hone has more over at Archosaur Musings. Mike Taylor and Matt Wedel have blogged about their own contribution. What will yours be?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hello, Spinops!

In case you haven't yet noticed, there's a new horned dinosaur in town: Spinops sternbergorum, yet another example of the ceratopsians' incredible evolutionary radiation.

Spinops sternbergorum, as envisioned by Dmitry Bogdanov

This animal has special significance for me, because it is the first new dinosaur for which I have been senior author. In a lot of ways, that's a childhood dream coming true!

Best of all, it was a lot of fun to work with some respected colleagues. Michael Ryan (ceratopsian expert extraordinaire) and I enjoyed bouncing ideas off of each other (even if we haven't yet reached a consensus on epiparietal homology, as acknowledged in the paper), and Mark Loewen added another ceratopsian voice to the mix. Darren Tanke offered his historical perspective (particularly important for this specimen, which was found in 1916), and Dennis Braman's expertise in palynology was absolutely invaluable. All of us owe a huge debt to Paul Barret's efforts at the Natural History Museum (London), where the type material is held, as well as for his cladistic wizardry. Last but certainly not least, Mark Graham did a bang-up job with preparing the fossil. When I first saw the holotype parietal, it was upside down and embedded in plaster. Mark took this and made it beautiful!

The art was contributed by several different folks. Phil Hurst took some exceptionally high-quality photographs, and Lukas Panzarin rendered the bones with his usual finesse. Our first life restoration of Spinops was undertaken by Dmitry Bogdanov, and it deservedly has been shown widely in the press.

Speaking of art, our representation of Spinops is conservative. We don't know what the frill looked like to the outside of the big spikes, so it is quite possible that there were more than what illustrated. So to the paleoartists out there: make it as spiky as you want! Anything is possible (until we find more fossils that tell us otherwise).

The specimens of Spinops have a long and interesting history, which has been detailed elsewhere. So, I encourage you to check out Brian Switek's write-up at Dinosaur Tracking, an excellent story by John Mangels in Cleveland's Plain Dealer, a story in The Telegraph, the NHM's press page, the Cleveland Museum's press page, or my own museum's web site.

If you're looking for something completely different, check out The Gawker's take on Spinops. It's snarky and quite funny. Many folks have taken some offense at it, but I'm positively delighted to be featured amongst the celebrity gossip - the story is decidedly tongue-in-cheek!

Finally, if you're really interested in digging deeper, check out the original paper, published in Acta Palaeontologia Polonica. It's open access and free to read by anyone!

Citation: Farke, A. A., M. J. Ryan, P. M. Barrett, D. H. Tanke, D. R. Braman, M. A. Loewen, and M. R. Graham. 2011. A new centrosaurine from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada, and the evolution of parietal ornamentation in horned dinosaurs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56(4):691-702. doi:10.4202/app.2010.0121 [link to the original paper]