International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology

My six week travels ended last week with a trip to Washington DC, where I attended the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) for the first time. Held every 3 years, it is run by the International Society of Vertebrate Morphology to promote collaboration and discussion between researchers working on several aspects of vertebrate morphology.

The conference was intense, and had 4 and a half days of concurrent sessions (as many as 6 at a time) of amazing vertebrate morphology. Everything from evo-devo to iodine-stained CT scans to some awesome new fossil biomechanics. Predictably, I liked a lot of the palaeontology talks, but I also really enjoyed some of the non-palaeo presentations. I found myself consistently wondering how much of it could be applicable to fossil animals, and how I could use that information in my research. But more than that, the shear number of generally interesting talks was phenomenal.

Some of my personal highlights included:

  • XROMM of a mole (not sloth as previously stated, oops!) digging through couscous, first as unconsolidated soft couscous, then as compacted. The difference in movement between the two substrates was pretty cool, and XROMM movies are always awesome!
  • some cool work by Victoria Arbour on the evolution of tail weapons in vertebrates, looking at the different morphological traits in animals with tail weapons like ankylosaurs, stegosaurs, turtles, and glyptodonts
  • investigations into whether or not Spinosaurus was more buoyant than other theropods. Spoiler: it’s not particularly different
  • a very interesting talk by Sarah Werning on histology and investigations into modern and fossil bone histology to better understand what tissues you’re actually looking at. It seems that from previous criteria many identifications of things like medullary tissue in fossils have been incorrect, and we need to be careful about identifying these structures in the future.
  • growth rate and wing bone laminarity in bats and birds – laminar bone in birds has previously been thought to be related to resisting torsion during flight. However, it is not found in bats, and may be more related to growth rate than anything.
  • an awesome video of a hoatzin chick both walking and in water. Super cool!

There was also a talk on the terrestrial locomotion of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, which was interesting to say the least. The talk requested no social media, and therefore I won’t say much about it here, but the abstract alone is enough to cause a stir with pterosaur workers, and I have to say the talk wasn’t much less stir-worthy. Unfortunately, what I was really looking forward to was seeing some pictures of the actual fossils. For those of you that don’t know pterosaurs, you may not have heard the story, but basically Q. northropi is the most complete specimen of a giant pterosaur, yet despite being known since the 70s, has never been properly described. This is in the process of changing, and is now being described and studied, but for those of us that have not seen any of the specimen and work on pterosaurs, this is like the holy grail. However, it looks like we’re going to have to wait a little longer to see the material.

I gave a talk on some of my PhD research looking at cross-sections of pterosaur wing bones, wing bone thicknesses, and debunking some of the myths commonly in the literature. It’s amazing how much you can learn just from looking at fragments of broken bones, and I have looked at a lot over the years. Hopefully I’ll publish that at some point and can talk about it a bit more!

At ICVM, they announced that the next meeting (to be held in 2019) had been narrowed down to Glasgow or Prague. I have no idea where I will be in 3 years, but I will try my best to be wherever the meeting is, and I highly recommend anyone else who is interested in any aspects of vertebrate morphology to go as well! Kudos to Larry Witmer and the team for an awesome meeting!


3 thoughts on “International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology

  1. I wonder how fast a “sloth” could dig in cou….s…cou…s…. My husband is making fun of my mole research by imitating a sloth digging in couscous now…lol


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