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SVP Taylor & Francis Award Interview: Christopher Griffin

Following the annual meeting, we're highlighting the student and early career award winners from the society. Today we talk with Christopher Griffin (Virginia Tech Paleo [on Twitter here]; professional website here), second place recipient of the Taylor & Francis Best Student Paper Award for his senior authored publication, “The histology and femoral ontogeny of the Middle Triassic (?late Anisian) dinosauriform Asilisaurus kongwe and implications for the growth of early dinosaurs.

Asilisaurus kongwe, as reconstructed by Andrey Atuchin. Image provided by C. Griffin.

Why focus on bone histology for studying dinosaur growth?
The internal structure of bone records important information for understanding how an animal grew when it was alive, often helping to determine how rapidly an individual grew at different stages of life, how old it was when it died, and whether or not had reached full size. With our study of Asilisaurus, we were interested in changes to the shape of the bones that occurred during growth, and we wanted to compare those anatomical changes with the record preserved by bone tissues. Also, we wanted to know if any individuals in our sample had stopped growing when they died because that is important for determining mature body size and anatomical features.

What is Asilisaurus, and why did you choose to focus on that taxon for your study?
Asilisaurus is one of the earliest known bird-line archosaurs--reptiles that are more closely related to birds than they are to crocodiles. We noticed similar features of growth, particularly changes in anatomy (muscle scars, etc.) shared by Asilisaurus and early dinosaurs, but we had a very large sample size of Asilisaurus bones of different sizes and stages of maturity. Because early dinosaurs are very rare, especially growth series of early dinosaurs, this close dinosaur relative gave an excellent peek into how the earliest dinosaurs and their close relatives grew.

If there is any outstanding question that remains following your work, what would that be?
We now have a fairly good sense of the bone histology of early bird-line archosaurs, including dinosaurs. The high variation in growth that we found in Asilisaurus appears to be widespread among these lineages, and it appears that the ancestral dinosaurian condition was to possess a large amount of variation in growth between individuals. However, when this first evolved, how long it was maintained, and the actual mechanism behind this variation in anatomy are all poorly constrained.

Thank you, Chris, and congratulations!

Citation: Griffin, C. T. and S. J. Nesbitt. 2016. The histology and femoral ontogeny of the Middle Triassic (?late Anisian) dinosauriform Asilisaurus kongwe and implications for the growth of early dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 36:e1111224. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2016.1111224.
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