Happy International Women’s Day!

It’s that time of year again. People are digging out their oft-neglected lilac, mauve and lavender clothing in commemoration of International Women’s Day. It is a time to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women all over the globe. It is also an annual reminder of how far we still have to go to reach gender parity.

So, what better time to celebrate women palaeontologists than today?! Most people would know of Mary Anning, the English fossil collector famous for her discoveries in the Jurassic beds in the cliffs at Lyme Regis. Some of her most significant finds included Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs and Pterosaurs. In fact there has been a film made recently celebrating the life and work of Mary Anning which I am very excited to see.

However, sadly, I think most people would be hard-pressed to think of a second or third woman palaeontologist from history. It is true that the work of these scientists was often ignored or plagiarised by men in their field. One of my favourite palaeontologists (woman or not) is Tilly Edinger. If you would like to learn more, two scientists have recently written some nice articles summarising Tilly’s life and work (Buchholtz & Seyfarth 1999, 2001).

Tilly Edinger was a German palaeontologist who is credited as the founder of a branch of palaeontology I work in called palaeoneurology. In 1921 Tilly Edinger studied a ‘steinkern’ or natural endocast (mould of the internal cavity) of the skull of a marine Mesozoic marine reptile called Nothosaurus (Edinger 1921).  In the past, scientists had to rely on fortuitous findings of split-open skulls, or use painstakingly slow and destructive methods to examine the internal cavities of fossil skulls. Today palaeoneurology is flourishing due to the increasing accessibility of modern non-invasive scanning technology such as CT or synchrotron scanning.

A large focus of my work is that of endocasts of fossil fish and what they can tell us about the brains these animals had in life. Changes in brain shape throughout evolution can reflect changing reliance on various sensory abilities, and can help pinpoint the origins of certain behaviours. For example, some dinosaur skulls show “flight-ready” adaptations suggesting that those dinosaurs had already evolved the capability for flight, before the origin of birds. I work on the skulls and endocasts of the lineage of fish that first ventured onto land (tetrapods, the first terrestrial vertebrates) and their close fish relatives, lungfish. In doing so, I hope to uncover new insight into the behaviour and drivers for that “greatest step in evolution”.

You can see an image of a lungfish endocast (Rhinodipterus, from the Late Devonian Gogo Formation) below (figure from Clement and Ahlberg 2014).

Rhinodipterus endocast

Please let me know your favourite female palaeontologist from history (or today) in the comments below.

  • BUCHHOLTZ, E. A. & SEYFARTH, E.-A. 1999. The gospel of the fossil brain: Tilly Edinger and the science of paleoneurology. Brain Res Bull, 48, 351-61.
  • BUCHHOLTZ, E. A. & SEYFARTH, E.-A. 2001. The study of “fossil brains”: Tilly Edinger (1897-1967) and the beginnings of paleoneurology. BioScience, 51, 674-682.
  • CLEMENT, A. M. & AHLBERG, P. E. 2014. The first virtual cranial endocast of a lungfish (Sarcopterygii: Dipnoi). PloS One, 9, 19.
  • EDINGER, T. 1921. Über Nothosaurus, Ein Steinkern der Schädelhöhle. Senckenbergiana, 3, 121–129.

Dinosaur rEvolution!

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the opening of the new travelling exhibition at the South Australia Museum, “Dinosaur rEvolution: Secrets of Survival”.

There were a lot of old favourites there, but also some refreshing interpretations incorporating recent discoveries about dinosaur skin and ornaments, and some of the spectacular forms coming out of China (spoiler: there are lots of feathers, quills, spikes and horns to be seen.)

A great feature that I enjoyed was the abundance of skeleton casts that were available to touch (gently). I think the tactile experience is very important in Museum exhibitions – for adults and children alike. However, it was a little disappointing that I didn’t manage to find any Australian material on show.

The exhibition was put together by Luis V. Ray and Gondwana Studios, and is at the SAM until early May. I think it’s sure to be a hit with all of those dinosaur-obsessed little ones out there!


SciPub: Evolution

Are you currently in Adelaide and interested in Evolution?

If the answer is yes, then you should come on down to “Science in the Pub:Evolution” tomorrow night.

The Science in the Pub group put on FREE public monthly meetings that are, as the name suggests, all about science and held IN THE PUB. It’s a great way to learn something fascinating while enjoying a cold bevvie or two (and in this heat, we deserve it!)


From their website: “SciPub is to make science engaging and accessible to the public. Each panel consists of three experts who deliver short, 10-15 minute presentations on their area of expertise and then discuss questions from the audience via a moderator.”

Date: Friday 9th Feb

Time: 5:30pm for a 6pm start

Place: Rob Roy Hotel, Halifax Street, Adelaide.


The panellists for #SciPubEvolution are:

Prof Mike Lee – Flinders University and SA Museum

Prof Stephen Donnellan – University of Adelaide and SA Museum

Dr Laura Weyrich – University of Adelaide


Hope to see you there!

FUPS (Flinders Uni. Palaeo. Society)

As a member of the Research Group in the Palaeontology Group at Flinders University,  I had my profile featured on the Flinders University Palaeontology Society (FUPS) website today.

I talk about how I got into palaeo in the first place, and how my career has progressed thus far (and a few funny old photos too).

Read it here: http://flinderspalaeosoc.org/research-group-profile-dr-alice-clement/


The society gives members the opportunity to participate in hands-on palaeontological research, from field trips to workshops and fossil preparation in the lab. And the best bit is, you don’t have to be a student to be a member! It is a wonderful way to get learn more and meet like-minded people.

For more information, check them out: http://flinderspalaeosoc.org/ 

DiceCT & Scanning at SAHMRI

This week I visited the newly-built and impressive-looking SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute) building in Adelaide.

Together with Trevor Worthy, Warren Handley and Phoebe McInerney, we used their hospital CT scanner to scan the tracheal system of a cassowary. This is in aid of Phoebe’s Honours project, which I am co-supervising.

Worthy, Handley, Mcinerney, Clement

Figure 1: Trevor, Warren, Phoebe and I (and cassowary) at SAHMRI this week.

We are using a technique called diceCT which stands for “Diffusible Iodine-based Contrast Enhanced Computed Tomography”. It is a relatively new technique that yields spectacular results (see Figure 2). It is mostly being used by morphologists who want better differentiation between different types of soft tissues than you normally get from a regular CT scan – the results are comparable with those you get using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

A big thank you to Mishelle! We were very excited to visit the new facility, and I look forward to seeing Phoebe’s project take shape throughout the year.

diceCT example_Neoceratodus

Figure 2: The head of the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus, imaged using diceCT.

ECR Spotlight – Inspiring Research

Today my profile was published on the Flinders University “Inspiring Research” in a new feature where ECR’s (Early Career Researchers) are featured so as to promote research links across the University.

I was encouraged to partake after being a part of the fabulous Flinders University Researcher Mentoring Scheme last year. I strongly advice ECR’s to make the most of any mentoring opportunities available to you, whether these be official or not. These people can help you navigate the most vulnerable stage in your career and better plan for the future you want. I’ve benefited greatly from a number of mentors, some of whom where my official supervisors, but many who were not. I wouldn’t have got as far as I have today without their guidance.

So, thank you.

You can read my full profile here: https://research.flinders.edu.au/RP/Blog/5217/research-engagement-and-impact-ecr-spotlight-alice-clement

VC’s ECR Award

And now time for some shameless self-promotion…

Last year I won one of the Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Early Career Researcher as recognition of “outstanding contribution to the University”, along with seven of my colleagues.


I intend to use the cash prize to visit Dr Rob Gess, a palaeontologist from South Africa based at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Together we will describe a new species of lungfish from the polar Famennian Waterloo Farm locality of South Africa. Needless to say, I’m very excited!

Rob Gess

Figure: Rob and friend at the Early and Lower Vertebrates Meeting in Poland, 2017. 

Hello and welcome!

Alice and lungfish selfie

Hello all, and welcome to my new blog!

Here I endeavour to keep you all up-to-date with my fieldwork, research an other science adventures. And what better way to start than with a lungfish selfie!? This handsome chap, known as Neoceratodus forsteri, lives at the Melbourne Museum and I say hello to him every time I visit.

The Melbourne Museum is my favourite museum in all of Australia and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My favourite galleries are “600 million years”, the “Forest Gallery” and “Wild”, but I suggest you visit yourself and make your own mind up.

Tip: Look out for a primitive ray-finned fish (‘Actinopterygian‘) fossil from the world famous Gogo Formation with “AC” written on it in black texta – I discovered this specimen during fieldwork back in 2008! (It’s directly opposite the living lungfish).

I welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback – but please keep it respectful.

Disclaimer – The views expressed on this website are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.