Annual Meeting > Symposia
Symposia (invited participants only)

Symposia will be presented in the following topics:


  • Archaeopteryx - the iconic fossil in modern view
  • The lives of temnospondyls: investigations into their biology
  • Putting fossils in trees: new methods for combining morphology, time, and molecules to estimate phylogenetic position and divergence times of living and fossil taxa
  • Ecometrics: quantitative trait-based approaches to biotic change
  • The influence of R. McNeill Alexander on paleobiological inferences

Archaeopteryx - the iconic fossil in modern view
Co-Convenors: Daniela Schwarz-Wings, Martin Kundrat

Archaeopteryx is probably the most iconic vertebrate fossil. Ever since their discovery, the isolated feather and the now 11 body fossils of Archaeopteryx have been subject to intensive scientific research and quite often controversial interpretations. Although Archaeopteryx can still be viewed as being phylogenetically in a position that heralds the rise of birds from small feathered theropods, the Archaeopteryx fossils are often discussed in terms of their flying capability and characters used to distinguish a bird from a dinosaur.


The importance of the Archaeopteryx fossils and their close historical connections to the Museum fuer Naturkunde in Berlin has inspired the idea of proposing a symposium on this particular animal. Our aim is to bring together all scientists working on novel formulations of our most recent perception of Archaeopteryx. The symposium is to bring together specialists on varying research topics related to Archaeopteryx and applying various innovative techniques on these particular fossils. We expect that participants will be able to present the major inspirative interpretations of the Archaeopteryx biology that will be of a great interest to a broad community of vertebrate paleontologists and public. The symposium thereby will provide a platform for all interested researchers to discuss critical and uncritical aspects of new findings on the “Urvogel”.

The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin holds one of the best preserved and most complete Archaeopteryx specimen, the “Berlin specimen”. Additional to the main fossil slab, a counterslab with beautiful feather impressions on it is present in the collections, as well as the isolated feather that was the initial holotype of Archaeopteryx and inspired its genus name. Several of the most recent research papers on Archaeopteryx, for example on its color pattern, biochemistry of the feather, and flight abilities, are based on the Archaeopteryx specimens of the Museum fuer Naturkunde Berlin and their outcomes will be reported on the symposium. Thus we believe that the location serves as a perfect host city for this particular kind of SVP symposium.

The lives of temnospondyls: investigations into their biology
Co-Convenors: Andrew Milner, Jean-Sébastien Steyer, Florian Witzmann

With over 300 genera recognised, the temnospondyl amphibians are the largest group of early non-amniote tetrapods and played a major role in late Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic  continental and marginolittoral ecosystems. The group diversified during the Carboniferous, mainly in the palaeo-equatorial belt. In the Permian they spread globally and remained a significant component of all non-marine assemblages. After the P-T extinction, the few surviving clades rediversified into a more restricted range of morphotypes. Most lineages vanished at the end of the Triassic with two persisting later into the Mesozoic. Temnospondyls have been subject to a range of cladistic analyses over the last two decades, and although there is not a complete consensus, parts of the phylogeny are widely agreed. Until now, most of these analyses have treated the resulting patterns of relationship as an end in themselves. There has been little consideration on how they can be interpreted in evolutionary and biological terms, but work is now in progress that should rectify this and results will be presented at this symposium.

This symposium is intended to bring together a range of workers who are exploring the biology of temnospondyls by various techniques. Temnospondyl specialists from Germany, France, UK, Spain, Sweden, India, Argentina, Canada and the USA will present recent work on several aspects of temnospondyl biology in a phylogenetic context. There will be some discussion of the areas of consensus and controversy in the phylogeny of the group. A major topic will be the considerable information being retrieved by several working groups who are undertaking histological studies of temnospondyl bone, in particular the issue of the relative influences of phylogeny and environment on the development, growth patterns and remodelling of bone. Computational modelling of skull mechanics, the evolution of large size and scaling effects on the skeleton will be reviewed. Finally there will be a series of papers on aspects of metamorphosis in temnospondyls. Many, but not all, workers consider the lissamphibians to be a clade of dwarf temnospondyls. The dissorophoid temnospondyls are widely seen as relatives of lissamphibians and some show metamorphic changes and interesting sequences of ossification. Presentations will include ontogeny of Doleserpeton and ossification sequences in Apateon and lissamphibians, while aspects of early caecilian postcranial evolution will also be covered. The possibility of other simpler metamorphoses within the Temnospondyli will be discussed.

The symposium will be relevant, not only to amphibian palaeontologists but to any worker on early continental ecosystems. Because temnospondyls were a major component of terrestrial and freshwater environments for the first third of tetrapod evolution, an understanding of their biology, ecology and geography will feed into wider studies of the late Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic. It is particularly appropriate for Germany to be the host nation for this symposium. Temnospondyl amphibians were first collected, recognised and described in Germany in the 1820's and it remains one of the major centres of temnospondyl research to this day.

Putting fossils in trees: new methods for combining morphology, time, and molecules to estimate phylogenetic position and divergence times of living and fossil taxa

Co-Convenors: Nicholas J. Matzke, April Wright, Graeme Lloyd, David W. Bapst

Fossil data are crucial to correct estimation of phylogeny and divergence times. However, most traditional methods artificially separate the analysis of fossil relationships and divergence time analysis. For example, it is common for paleontologists to estimate the topological position of fossils using cladistic or Bayesian methods, either in a morphology-only or “total evidence” analysis. This tree, which is undated, may then be used by molecular biologists to supply calibration distributions for dating a molecules-only tree of living taxa. Such trees form the starting point for various comparative methods which require dated phylogenies, e.g., model-based ancestral state analyses, diversification analyses, or historical biogeography.


Such procedures “throw away” most of the fossil data, treating paleontology as merely a source of calibration points for molecular analyses, and separate the questions of estimating relationships and dating, when in fact they may be linked. However, increasing collaboration between paleontologists, biologists, statisticians and computer scientists has been fruitful in yielding new technologies and techniques that attempt to combine fossil and living morphology, fossil dates, and molecular data in joint analyses. This symposium will be devoted to reviewing, discussing, and critiquing new methods and models for estimating phylogenetic trees and for incorporating fossils in the derivation of divergence times.


The three foci of the symposium are: 1. "Model-based methods: advantages and limitations." This will focus on the assumptions behind the current probabilistic models for morphological and fossil data, the resulting advantages and limitations, and suggestions for improvements. 2. "Fossils as terminal taxa in dating analyses: prospects and challenges." Methods using fossils as terminal taxa in dating analyses are new and mostly unevaluated, so participants will present case studies that give insight into the practical benefits and problems encountered in the use of such methods. 3. "Fossils as dual information sources: morphology and stratigraphy." The stratigraphic range and sampling frequency of clades also gives important information about the timing of clade origins. Stratocladistics was an early attempt to take this information into account, but was not widely adopted. Probabilistic methods, as well as advances in fossil databases, may allow improved approaches. Participants will review and critique recent developments in this area.

Ecometrics: quantitative trait-based approaches to biotic change
Co-Convenors: Jussi T. Eronen, P. David Polly, A. Michelle Lawing

Ecometrics is the quantitative study of responses of organisms to ecological change based on functional traits with which they interact with their environment.  Ecometric traits are key features of locomotion, diet, thermoregulation, and species interactions that influence where species can live and under what conditions.  As environments, climates, and ecosystems change, the response of organisms is mediated through traits.  Furthermore, traits whose functional relationship with the environment involves generalizable physical or physiological principles are important for “taxon-free” comparisons across time and space because they allow recent and extinct organisms to be equated regardless of whether the function of the trait can be studied directly in living species.  Thus ecometrics is increasingly being used to study the responses of organisms to changing climates, environments, and Earth systems.  Ecometrics has natural links with vertebrate paleontology, indeed the approach has largely arisen from paleontology, because the skeleton and teeth include many important functional traits, they are commonly preserved in the fossil record, and have they functional and phylogenetic contexts are familiar to ecologists and paleontologists alike. 

This symposium features ecometric theory and methods as well as research applications with the aim of raising awareness of the questions and techniques in the vertebrate paleontology research community and introducing non-paleontological trait-based researchers to the SVP community in order to promote cross-disciplinary interactions.  The symposium will start with an overview of the importance of traits for integrating data on ecological and geological timescales.  Applications of functional traits to extinction processes, ecomorphology, functional groups, evolutionary modes and rates, climate, and physiography will be presented.

The event is co-sponsored by the Integrative Climate Change Biology program (iCCB) of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS).  iCCB uses a trait-based approach to integrate data across paleontological and ecological scales in order to better understand the impact of climate change on the Earth’s biota.  The IUBS, a sister-organization to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that promotes the study of biological sciences, facilitates and coordinates international research, and supports the organization of international conferences.

The influence of R. McNeill Alexander on paleobiological inferences

Co-Convenors: John R. Hutchinson, Eric Snively, Andreas Christian

As much or more than any other researcher, R. McNeill Alexander founded the application of biomechanics to vertebrate palaeontology in a series of groundbreaking publications of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. His rigorous and often strikingly original methods touch on many aspects of function in both modern and extinct vertebrates. For example, his ingenious mathematical connections between the movement of oceangoing ships and terrestrial vertebrates inspired interpretation of fossil trackways and estimates of dinosaur speed. Prof. Alexander’s attempts to directly measure of speeds for wild African mammals still inspire the spirit of validation essential in modern palaeobiology.


Prof. Alexander’s methods and research have enormous phylogenetic scope, from pterosaurs to glyptodonts, and touch on myriad aspects of palaeobiology and mechanics including bone strength, bite force, digestive efficiency, and swimming speed. Our modern computerized methods, including finite element and dynamics analyses, stand in the Alexander tradition. Prof. Alexander’s accessible and lucid book “Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Giants” popularized biomechanics for general readers, inspired generations of professional investigators, and is still cited in the primary literature.


This symposium honors the contributions and influence of Prof. Alexander in the field of vertebrate palaeontology.  Our international quorum of speakers and diversity of subjects reflects the range and depth of his impact on palaeobiological inference. Presented studies on the nexus of locomotion, osteology, and body form in quadrupeds, bipeds, and flyers, simulation and structural mechanics of trackway formation, and deployment of the neck and jaws for feeding trace back to the foundations Prof. Alexander set for the biomechanics of fossil vertebrates.


SVP Program Committee

If you have questions regarding the program, your presentation or abstract, check the SVP website or contact the SVP Program Co-Chairs:


Jonathan Bloch, Co-Chair

Florida Museum of Natural History

Gainesville, FL, USA


Anjali Goswami, Co-Chair

University College London

London, UK

Heather Ahrens
Johns Hopkins, USA
Josh Miller
University of Cincinnati, USA

Brian Beatty
New York College of Osteopath Medicine, USA
Jessica Miller-Camp
University of Iowa, USA
Chris Brochu
University of Iowa, USA
Kevin Padian
University of California, USA

Richard Butler
University of Birmingham, UK
butler.richard.j@gmail. com
Lauren Sallan
University of Michigan, USA
Ted Daeschler
Acacdemy of Natural Sciences, USA
William Sanders
University of Michigan, USA
Dave Evans
Royal Ontario Museum, Canada
Bruce Shockey
Manhattan College, USA
David Fox
University of Minnesota, USA
Mary Silcox
University of Toronto, Canada
Pat Holroyd
University of California, USA
Michelle Stocker
Virginia Polytechnic Institute, USA
Marc Jones
The University of Adelaide, Australia
Rebecca Terry
Oregon State University, USA

Christian Kammerer
Museum Für Naturkunde,
Paul Upchruch
University College London, UK
Matt Lamanna
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, USA
Aaron Wood
Florida Musuem of Natural History, USA
Erin Maxwell
University of Alberta, Canada


For further information please contact the SVP Meeting Management office at

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