Friday, 17 October 2014

Reaching new heights....

One of the most enjoyable tasks as an academic is getting to do exciting research with a splendid cohort of postgraduate students.  I am lucky enough to serve on the PhD committee of Brandon Hedrick (below) at the University of Pennsylvania. His determined work ethic and copious outputs makes me feel tired sometimes. His latest paper, published in the Journal of Morphology

Brandon Hedrick: plastering dinosaur bones in the Hell Creek Fm., South Dakota, USA.
Brandon has taken a geometric morphometric approach that allows us to track trends within major skeletal elements that are pivotal in tracking the evolution of flight from maniraptoran to avian theropods….aka, birds! Brandon has mapped, scanned and measured a vast number of beasties that has additionally allowed comparison between the trends in each of the skeletal elements studied. This is a powerful quantitative tool that will enable a better understanding of the intricate routes and subtle trends that gave rise to flight in birds from dinosaurs. A rather curious insight from this study was that the limbs of birds did not significantly diverge in terms of morphospace from those of their dinosaurian cousins…until after the K/Pg extinction event….so the many studies that have previously used large datasets of extant species have ‘overwhelmed’ the subtle trends that this study has carefully mapped at the beginning of this volant story.