Doing Paleontology - Scientific Meetings

I just returned from the 5th Congreso Latinoamericano de Paleontología de Vertebrados (CLAPV), held in Colonia, Uruguay. Why did I travel more than 5,000 miles (nearly 9,000 km) to attend this conference when the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) will be held in Dallas in just a few weeks? And why do paleontologists attend such meetings at all?

CLAPV Poster
This cleverly designed poster was projected between talks at the CLAPV. Photo by D. Croft. Reuse permitted under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The main reason I attend a paleontology meeting like the CLAPV or the SVP Annual Meeting is to chat with colleagues, students, and other attendees. Although it is now easier than ever to “stay connected” with people throughout the world, there is truly no substitute for the type of spontaneous, face-to-face conversation we engage in over a coffee between sessions or a beer in the evening. These unplanned, informal interactions are often what lead to new ideas, new collaborations, and new student-advisor relationships. Since my research focuses on the evolution of South American mammals, South America is the best place for me to interact with others who have similar interests. But new ideas and collaborations also arise from conversations with researchers in other fields, and for that reason, the annual meeting of the SVP is still near the top of my list of conferences to attend.

Optional field trips before and/or after the conference are a key feature of most paleontology meetings. These field trips are unique opportunities to visit important fossil sites, usually with one of the world’s foremost experts on that particular locality. The annual meeting of the SVP always has several conference field trips, and for some attendees, this is the best part of the meeting. Ideas are already being discussed for field trips for the next CLAPV meeting, to be held in Colombia in 2018, and I am anxiously awaiting to see what materializes; the country is home to some extremely important fossil sites.

This gate in the old wall surrounding Colonia was incorporated into the logo that appears on the V CLAPV web site. Photo by D. Croft. Reuse permitted under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

But apart from the personal connections and the field trips, simply sitting back and learning from world experts about less familiar topics may be my favorite aspect of paleontology meetings. For example, at the CLAPV this past week, I attended an all-day symposium on aquatic (primarily marine) mammals - groups that I have yet to deal with in my day-to-day research. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear about the latest research on whales, dolphins, seals, and sea cows from international specialists. Just a couple of the many topics that caught my attention included persistent questions about how many times dolphins have moved from saltwater to freshwater over the past 65 million years (several different types of freshwater dolphins presently live in Asia and South America), and why only manatees are found in the Western Hemisphere today when dugongs - now represented by a solitary Old World species - are much more diverse and abundant in the fossil record of North and South America.

For many people, the main reason to attend an academic meeting is to learn about the latest, greatest discoveries in the field. There is no question that this is still important, even though increasingly short publication times have resulted in many newsworthy studies being published before they are presented at a meeting. At every meeting I attend, I know I can get the “inside scoop” on at least one new find that will soon make a splash in the media. At the CLAPV, I was excited to learn that a few more teeth of ancient monkeys from Peru were discovered after the paper that announced the first monkey fossils from the site was published. These specimens will not garner as much attention as the first ones from the site, but they will undoubtedly provide new, valuable information about the continent’s earliest primates - perhaps a future topic for another entry in Old Bones!

If you have never attended the SVP annual meeting or any other paleontology meeting, I hope I have convinced you that it would be well worth your while to attend at least one. I am certain you will not be disappointed! There is still plenty of time to register for Dallas...

Darin Croft
Posted: 9/26/2015 12:00:00 AM by croftdarinadmin | with 0 comments
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