Thursday, 7 July 2016

International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology

I've just returned to work after a fabulous conference, the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) 2016 in Washington DC. It was an incredibly busy week, a combination of a long travel (via Iceland) and lots of great talks. In fact, it was 4.5 days of talks, with all starting off with some high profile speakers leading the way with plenaries, then 6 simultaneous sessions so there was something for everyone going on nearly all the time (and sometimes too much at once so things were inevitably missed).

I was pleased to get the opportunity to present my work on how cat muscles scale as well as how we can use these data to reconstruct fossil taxa (in this case Panthera atrox - the North American lion, and Smilodon fatalis - sabretooth "tiger") and their soft tissues, and implications this has for the biomechanical reconstructions (keep an eye out for this paper which is currently in review).
Convex hull model of P. atrox based on musculoskeletal reconstructions.
In addition to my own work, it was great seeing all of the talks of past and present lab mates (and there are now a lot from the three big groups across the universities). Their works span everything from pterosaurs, birds, cats, dinosaurs, mammals, and fish.

There were some particular highlights though amongst the rest of the science:

  • The suggestion that sperm whales only have dentition on their lower jaw may be linked to helping lure squid using bioluminescence on the teeth.

  • The entire diceCT (sounding like dice CT, rather than dissect) symposium showing how you can obtain and utilise iodine to contrast enhance CT scanning to produce spectacular images of soft tissues in small animals (they are working on bigger animals, but diffusion is a pain without over-saturating the edges) and their utility for understanding anatomy, function and reconstructing soft tissues. Check out the website for more!

From Gignac et al., 2016 showing diceCT utility for contrast enhanced CT scanning.

  • Casey Holliday and colleagues continue to produce some of the most amazing histology slices of cranial joint morphologies across reptiles and archosaurs (besides the jaw joint). Not only incredibly important in terms of defining what is and isn't a joint, but realising that all the groups do it differently. And I would happily put some of their cross-sections on my wall as art as they are gorgeous.

Best I can offer until the publications come out. From Holliday lab page.

  • There were interesting talks on reconstructing jaw musculature, particularly one on how ornithischian "cheeks" are probably just a more anterior insertion of some of the muscles on the lower jaw.

  • I enjoyed finding out that sloth vertebral muscles are the same as "right way up" terrestrial vertebrates.

  • Seeing that reconstruction of Spinosaurus floating around quite happily (a different result to that presented at SVP which had it unable to float upright and tipping onto its side). However, T. rex also floats happily (as long as its head is up) so if that Spinosaurus reconstruction is correct and not just a rubbish, short-legged, chimeric reconstruction (personal opinion), it still isn't special in its aquatic abilities.

There are there are many more talks deserving of recognition, including those I was unable to attend as I was in other talks (I'm told there was one on chameleons producing infrasonic sounds and being able to hear them with their feet which sounded amazing). There were also the usual high quality selection of posters spanning the entirety of topics and groups from the talks sessions that were up the entire conference allowing people to browse at their leisure.

Other things I also really enjoyed:

  • All talk rooms were the same size so their was no indication to which were expected to be the most popular (e.g. dinosaurs at SVP). The downside is some very popular sessions were very crowded, but I don't believe I saw a single session with every seat filled.

  • Selections of food and drinks available at the coffee breaks. Whilst it may not sound like much, I don't drink tea or coffee so it was nice having something to drink besides water during the coffee breaks.

  • I also attended the end of the business meeting for the conference discussing to get an insight into the workings of it, seeing the next president and committee members being elected, and hearing that the next ICVM is in either Glasgow or Prague (I'm hoping for Prague). A sneak preview that that year SVP is in Australia too so an exciting year of conferences awaits! 

I got to personally thank Larry Witmer for all his work and for being such a great meeting, but again I would like to thank the host committee and everyone who organised ICVM 2016. Barcelona was great 3 years ago, but DC was even better. Looking forward to 2019 and seeing what that ICVM brings!

Gignac et al., 2016. Diffusible iodine-base contrast enhanced computed tomography (diceCT): an emerging tool for rapid, high-resolution, 3-D imaging of metazoan soft tissues. Journal of Anatomy 228, 889-909.

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