EGU Blogs


Are the days of parsimony numbered? Probably.

April Wright recently published a cool paper looking at how to bring morphological analyses of evolutionary relationships into the Bayesian realm. This is her take on it – enjoy! 

Author Bio: My name is April Wright, and I’m a graduate student in David Hillis’ lab at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m largely interested in the estimation and use of phylogenetic trees to answer questions about evolution. Particularly, I’m investigating how we can make the best possible use of our fossils in an era increasingly dominated by genome-scale data. You might say I’m a little bit of a ‘small data’ scientist, though my questions often involve a multitude of small data sets.

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about a recent paper I published as part of my PhD thesis work.

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Which direction to take!?

One of the most important things palaeontologists and taxonomists do is the description of new species or fossils. Focussing on dinosaurs, because they’re the ones I know the best, there is a whole host of descriptive anatomy to get your head around. It’s not just the names of the bones; it’s also the names of the parts and structures within bones, including muscle scars and hypothesised muscles that attached to them. As well as this, you have to describe the relative position and spatial relationships between these elements to build a 3-dimensional image of a fossil based on descriptive terminology. This final part comes with a host of orientation related terminology, and can be incredibly confusing to decipher. At request from Sam Barnett (@Palaeosam), here’s an attempt to break it down, so that whenever you’re reading a description of a new species, you’ll hopefully be able to figure out some of the position-related jargon scientists have used!

Note, that while these can refer also to specific parts of the body, they can be used as relative terms too (e.g., the scutes are positioned dorsally, and the scutes are dorsal to the vertebral column).

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