Happy 30th to Flinders Palaeo!

On Saturday, we celebrated 30 years since Flinders University began teaching Vertebrate Palaeontology (VP) and 30 years since the inception of the student-run Flinders Palaeontological Society, FUPS.

Past and current members of FUPS as well as previous students of the VP topic were all invited to a special event held at the ALERE Function Centre. The evening began with the Inaugural Rod Wells Lecture, given by the man himself, looking back over his impressive career and the significant impact he’s made on the world of vertebrate palaeontology.

Gavin, Rod, Kailah.jpgRod’s influence and contribution is remarkable. Rod discovered the world-famous Victoria Cave fossil deposits at Naracoorte in 1969 and was instrumental in raising that site to World Heritage status in 1994. Similarly, his research into the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat led to the establishment of the Brookfield Wombat Reserve (now Brookfield Conservation Park). And it is Rod that we have to thank for beginning to teach Vertebrate Palaeontology at Flinders University way back in 1988!

Following on from Rod’s lecture, guests were treated to a cocktail party with a few fun surprises throughout the night and MC’d by the fantastic Prof. Flint. Sam Arman was awarded the first Flinders Palaeontology Society medal, in honour of his long-standing and generous commitment to the society, and for being the first person to achieve Life Membership after 10 consecutive years’ membership. There was an auction and some really cool FUPS merchandise and artworks won in a mystery raffle.

Sam Arman

Later on, there was a team quiz/scavenger hunt which united guests into seven teams to battle it out for palaeontological glory! Teams had to identify unknown specimens, mark fossil localities on a map of Australia, network with other groups, post to social media (#FUPS30, wooo!) as well as try to remember who was Prime Minister in 1988 (do you remember?) Team Wonambi fared poorest, and it was Team Ligulalepis who took out crowning glory on the night! Congratulations!

It was a fantastic night that drew together diverse people united by their appreciation of palaeontology. Thank you to FUPS and everyone else involved who worked so hard to pull together a truly fantastic celebration. It is wonderful to be part of such a vibrant and passionate palaeontological community.

ProfFlint, PaulWillis, Alice

*** View the rest of the photos and full slideshow here! ***

Heads, Jaws, and Muscles

Two years ago I was approached to write a chapter for a book about the evolution, diversity, and development of the vertebrate head and jaws as well as its associated muscles.

The book, to be edited by Janine Ziermann, Raul Diaz, and Rui Diogo, and published by Springer, aimed to document the emergence of these structures within chordates (animals possessing a notochord), from the earliest vertebrate origins up to and including humans.

The book was an ambitious project as Springer wanted to summarise the most recent and state-of-the-art scientific knowledge while also being written in a way to make it accessible to the broader public, and not only written for specialists in the field.

I was very flattered to be approached, and contributed the sarcopterygian “lobe-finned” fish chapter. My chapter covers the changes and characteristic features in the skull and jaws from the first “lobe-finned” fish all the way to the “stem-tetrapods” – the fish that  evolved limbs with digits in readiness for moving out of water and onto land. I also include detail about the soft tissue (head muscles and the brain) and developmental evolution in the living sarcopterygian fish, coelacanths and lungfish.

The book’s full title is “Heads, Jaws, and Muscles: Anatomical, Functional, and Developmental Diversity in Chordate Evolution” and it is part of Springer’s Fascinating Life Sciences series. It is due to be published this November and I’m very excited to see it out in print soon!