Talks started again at 9:00 this morning. Matt Colbert used a series of really cool CT scans to show how the trunk gradually developed in tapirs, and how the presence of a trunk can be identified in fossils (the modern tapir shown above is from the Jacksonville Zoo.)
Richard Hulbert, Jason Bourque, David Steadman, Jonathan Bloch, and Art Poyer presented some of the fauna of the Haile 7G site from Florida. This is another sinkhole deposit, comparable in age to the Gray site. It has produced a large number of well-preserved skeletons, including lots of frogs and snakes. There is also a large number of tapirs, another similarity with the Gray site (tapirs are often present in Late Miocene-Pliocene deposits, but rarely common.)
The next talk, by Larisa DeSantis, looked at isotope studies of herbivores from both Gray and Haile 7G. It turns out that both sites were apparently pretty heavily forested (at a time when much of North America was becoming grassland.) Moreover, tapirs so consistently have the same isotope ratios that the presence of abundant tapirs can probably serve as an environmental marker for dense forest.
The next talk was by Steven Wallace on Pristinailurus bristoli, the red panda from the Gray site. They have collected more than half the skeleton of one individual, making it by far the best known red panda fossil. I posted a picture of the skull yesterday, but it’s so cool and unusual that it deserves another look:
The first talk after the morning break was Curtis Bentley, Jason Bourque, and Blaine Schubert on the diverse turtles from the Gray site. Seven different turtle genera have been identified so far, and there appear to be more.
Next was Travis Atwood and Judy Schiebout on an isotopic analysis of the mammals from Fort Polk in western Louisiana. This was of particular interest to me, as Judy was my graduate advisor, and Brett and I helped collect and process a lot of the Fort Polk material when I was a graduate student. The Fort Polk material indicated a range of environments, leaning toward more forested, but it’s considerably older than Gray and Haile 7G, at around 14 million years (the same age as Carmel Church).
Brian Beatty presented a small dromomerycid horn from the Thomas Farm locality Florida. Dromomerycids are rare on the Atlantic coast (there is one from Carmel Church).
The last talk before lunch was me (Brian Beatty was my co-author), on the baleen whale from Carmel Church that I’ve been talking about on the blog for several months. While I’ve been providing lots of updates about the preparation progress, there are some unusual aspects I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet. One of these (and the subject of my talk) was a spectacular injury to the left lower jaw:
The lower jaw was actually broken completely in half, we think as the result of a collision with the seafloor. The whale actually survived the injury for a time, because the wound partially healed, as shown by the bone growth that occurred inside the break (below). The black arrows indicate hemispherical depressions in the break; we think these are abscesses that formed when the wound became infected. Even though the whale initially survived the injury, we believed it would have been unable to feed and would eventually starve.
After lunch there was a poster session. These included an examination of armadillo relationships (Jeremy Bramblett and Timothy Gaudin), a look at fossil hellbender salamander material (Keila Bredehoeft and Blaine Schubert), salamanders from the Gray site (Grant Boardman), side-necked turtles from Florida (Jason Bourque), a confirmation that the foot surface area is in fact related to the wetness of habitat (W. Scott Persons), alligators from the Haile 7G site (Jeremy Stout and Blaine Schubert), and pathalogical stingray spines (including some specimens from Virginia (Yasemin Tulu and Stephen Godfrey).
After the poster session Yasemin and Stephen were up again, this time discussing pathological sharks’ teeth. Modern sharks can suffer injuries, such as jamming a stingray spine or a fish fin spine into the jaw, which can cause the teeth to be deformed when they grow. They showed several fossil specimens that seem to show these abnormal growth patterns, much like these deformed teeth on exhibit at the Aurora Fossil Museum:
Dana Ehert then presented information on using the tooth length and vertebral diameter to determine the overall body length of lamnoid sharks, using a fantastic fossil great white shark skeleton from the Pisco Formation of Peru as a model.
Alexander Hastings and Jonathan Bloch showed some great Paleocene crocodile specimens from a Columbian coal mine. There were at least 3 different species, including a remarkable short-snouted form.
Amy Smith gave the last talk of the session, looking at the correlation between proposed pterosaur relationships and their actual time of occurrence in the fossil record.
The last talk of the conference, presented after the evening banquet, was Bruce MacFadden on the Miocene deposits in the Panama Canal Zone, that are once again being exposed as the canal is widened.
I want to acknowledge Steven Wallace and Blaine Schubert, the organizers of the First SeAVP meeting, who did an outstanding job of putting the conference together. I’m also happy to announce that the Virginia Museum of Natural History was chosen to host the Second Annual SeAVP meeting in the Spring of 2009.