Annual Meeting Symposia

Podium symposia (invited participants only)

Paleo Evo-Devo: The New Science of the Very Old
Co-convenors: Alistair R. Evans and Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar
The interplay between development and evolution is fundamental to all vertebrate life. Despite its importance, detailed knowledge of this interaction is a missing cornerstone of evolutionary theory, and this limits our understanding of the history of life. Over the last century, we have made headway into documenting the history of vertebrates and assessing the evolutionary processes involved. Our grasp of broadly-conserved developmental processes is forging ahead at an ever-increasing rate. However, the twin components of how development influences evolution, and how developmental processes themselves evolve, are only beginning to be teased apart through evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) research.
There are many fundamental questions remaining in evo-devo that paleontology can help to answer: How does development channel or bias evolution? What morphologies are possible? How can we interpret homology and characters used in phylogenetic reconstruction? What was the actual course of evolution, as viewed through the fossil record? An integral part of evo-devo is knowing what animals in the past were like, whether these be ancestors of extant forms, failed evolutionary experiments, or diversity absent from modern ecosystems. Only through fossils can the minimum range of potential phenotypes be gathered, representing critical data that test and extend hypotheses generated through modern evo-devo research.
In this symposium we will focus on how the science of extinct organisms informs modern conceptions of development and how developmental processes bias evolutionary change and aid interpretations of biostratigraphic sequences. The presentations will cover all major groups of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, non-avian dinosaurs, birds, and mammals) and span many components of the vertebrate body, including teeth, the skeleton, muscles, ears and the brain. Evo-devo research is inherently interdisciplinary, integrating and having relevance to developmental biology, paleontology, genomics and biotechnology. Questions addressed by the presentations include skeletal reduction, integration, construction rules, constraints, lability, and homoplasy using concrete examples that span wide ranges of phylogenetic divergence and chronological scales.
Molecular Preservation in the Fossil Record: Evidence, Analyses, Applications and Challenges
Co-convenors:  Mary Schweitzer and Johan Lindgren
The methodological advances and sophisticated new tools of molecular biology and analytical biochemistry in recent years have provided access to a novel source of geobiologically relevant information: native organic compounds associated with exceptionally preserved fossils. The data obtained using these new approaches are challenging the reigning paradigm that all original biochemical components of an organism undergo complete degradation during the fossilization process, thereby rendering the original molecular content unavailable. This paradigm shift is considered to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the natural sciences in recent years. In-depth chemical and molecular characterization of well-preserved fossil material may potentially reveal novel aspects of the biology and ecology of extinct animals, timing of molecular novelties contributing to speciation and survival, and/or chemical pathways resulting in exceptional preservation. 
However, the field of molecular paleontology is still very much in its infancy, and thus may be impacted by experimental pitfalls. Additionally, when inappropriately used or over-interpreted, molecular data can be misleading.  This symposium will introduce the broader vertebrate paleontology community to various methodological approaches used in molecular investigations of fossil material, and discuss their potential as well as limitations. We also consider environmental and other factors affecting preservation, alteration and degradation of organics, as well as the use and limits of existing databases when identifying molecular remains in fossils.  Through case studies, attendees will have an opportunity to learn about aspects of molecular recovery, interpretation and analytical techniques available to them, both from colleagues in vertebrate paleontology and from major contributors outside of the field who do not ordinarily attend SVP annual meetings.
Major questions of interest to be addressed in this symposium include: How and why do biomolecules persist?  Which are the most informative biomolecules, which have the highest potential to be preserved, and what environmental factors favor preservation? What methods are most efficient in analyzing fossil remains, and what analytical techniques are available to evaluate molecular remnants in a phylogenetic, ecological, taphonomic, and/or physiological context? How is a microbial source for these signals eliminated, and what characters or criteria support an endogenous origin for organics obtained from fossil vertebrate remains?  What are the limitations of various methods, such as immunology, mass spectrometry sequencing, and infrared spectroscopy (including synchrotron)?
Recent Advances in Understanding the Origins and Evolution of Tetrapod Endothermy
Co-convenors: Colleen G. Farmer, Jennifer Botha-Brink, and Adam K. Huttenlocker
Endothermy, the ability to use metabolically generated heat to regulate internal body temperature above ambient, represents a key innovation driving mammalian and avian evolution, allowing them to shorten the time between conception and sexual maturity, and to exploit new habitats and resources not accessible to ectotherms. Because of this, understanding the evolutionary origins of endothermy has become a central question in vertebrate paleobiology and evolutionary physiology. Many physiologic adaptations that either promote or were a consequence of endothermy are shared between mammals and birds, but major questions surround their origins and early evolution: What fossilizable markers of endothermy are accessible to paleontologists? What were the selective agents that have driven this novel thermoregulatory physiology? What were the paleobiological and ecological contexts for its origins? When and how many times did endothermy evolve? In recent years, new information from non-mammalian synapsids and archosaurs has begun to reshape our views of their paleophysiology, including their capacities for fast growth, cardiopulmonary physiology, and insulation and thermoregulation. The growing body of new data makes this a timely topic that will throw into sharp relief what is and isn’t known, and will promote cross-pollination of research in light of the vertebrate fossil record.
This symposium will feature interdisciplinary research that exemplifies the diversity of new studies that shed light on the origins and early evolution of tetrapod endothermy. Symposium contributors will consist of an international list of scientists who employ a variety of tools to pinpoint the functional correlates of endothermy and their evolutionary origins in synapsids, archosaurs, and other tetrapod groups. Presentations will therefore span taxonomic boundaries, and will appeal to attendees actively researching paleophysiology in extinct tetrapods and to those interested in all aspects of vertebrate paleobiology. Major topics will include a variety of techniques and study systems, including (1) bone histological applications, (2) functional morphology, (3) metabolic scaling, (4) micro-computed tomographic techniques, and (5) clumped isotope paleothermometry. In light of the rapid changes in the field, this symposium will generate broad interest across multiple disciplines, as well as in the lay community, and will guide future research.

Poster Symposium (invited participants only)

Advances in Middle Eocene Paleoecology: Evolutionary and Ecological Dynamics in a Post-Greenhouse World
Co-Conveners: K.E. Beth Townsend, Paul C. Murphey, James W. Westgate, Anthony R. Friscia, and Laura K. Stroik
At first glance, the Eocene fossil record, particularly that of land vertebrates, appears to be densely sampled and well-correlated with global climatic shifts. However, our knowledge of terrestrial ecosystems of the Eocene of North America is heavily skewed towards both the earliest and latest intervals of the epoch--the Paleocene-Eocene transition and subsequent early Eocene intervals, and the end Eocene-Oligocene transition­­—resulting in a substantial gap in our understanding of middle Eocene ecosystems on multiple spatial scales. The dramatic difference in the taxonomic and ecological structure between the open and close of the Eocene has spurred a variety of hypotheses regarding the decline of the tropical “greenhouse” early Eocene and its cataclysmic effects on vertebrate diversity.  Yet, quantitative assessments of middle Eocene ecosystem evolution are rare and suffer both from poor taxonomic and geological sampling.  In the last decade, new field sites have been discovered and older less well-known sites have been re-opened in middle Eocene deposits throughout North America.  Work in these areas has resulted in a proliferation of new discoveries that have not only expanded the cast of characters, but is beginning to illustrate the taxonomic, ecological and environmental diversity of this poorly understood interval.  Currently, there is a growing appreciation that the middle Eocene is a much more dynamic time period than previously believed and that to understand this post-greenhouse world, a synthetic and interdisciplinary approach is required.
This symposium is dedicated to the latest advances in middle Eocene research, with a focus on new taxonomic discoveries and research on the evolutionary patterns of this interval.  The symposium will provide comprehensive reconstructions of terrestrial ecosystems throughout the Bridgerian-Duchesnean North American Land Mammal Ages by offering new data on taxonomic, biogeographic, and community patterns. It will bring together researchers working on an array of vertebrate groups as well as specialists on paleoenvironments and community ecology. Symposium participants will be organized around these themes: 1) Taxonomic, biogeographic, and ecological change in terrestrial faunas; 2) Mammalian community dynamics at the early-middle Eocene transition; and 3) the role of paleoclimate in middle Eocene vertebrate evolution.
The ultimate goal of this symposium is to bring together research on the middle Eocene of North America in order to build a collaborative framework that will allow for the integration and interpretation of the vast array of data on this intriguing time period.  Northeastern Utah is home to two of the type formations that provide the taxonomic and historical foundation for our understanding of much of the middle Eocene in North America. The proximity to formations within northeastern Utah and other western states with middle Eocene outcrops makes Salt Lake City an ideal venue for hosting a symposium that will bring together current research on this post-greenhouse world.
An Ecosystem We Thought We Knew: The Emerging Complexities of the Morrison Formation
Co-conveners: Kelli C. Trujillo, John R. Foster, Octávio Mateus, and D. Cary Woodruff
The Morrison Formation is a widespread terrestrial Upper Jurassic (latest Oxfordian – early Tithonian) rock unit of western North America that has been continually worked since the 1870s. Nearly 100 valid species of vertebrate fossils have been described from this formation, making it the most heavily explored and excavated fossil-bearing formation in the world. This familiarity has led to a general perception among geoscientists that there is little left to learn from the Morrison Formation.
Continuing biologic and geologic discoveries in recent years, however, have made it clear that this familiar picture is far more complex than previously thought. These new studies are revealing that we are just now beginning to “see” and understand the Morrison Formation ecosystem. In fact, because of the extensive record of fossils and geologic context data available from this formation, we now have the opportunity for a nearly unprecedented, highly detailed examination of all ecological and geological aspects of this rock unit.
This poster symposium will present some of the latest research on various aspects of the Morrison Formation and its fauna and flora, highlighting findings from the past few years involving radiometric dating, sequence stratigraphy, geochemical analysis, histology, cladistic analyses, taphonomy, palynology, and ecological modeling. It will also focus attention on the many unanswered questions about the paleoecology of the Morrison Formation.

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:
Dave Evans, Co-Chair
Royal Ontario Museum, Canada
Mary Silcox, Co-Chair
University of Toronto, Canada
For further information please contact the SVP Meeting Management office at