About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2007 (Predoctoral Fellowship Grant) Vera Weisbecker
Vera Weisbecker

I am delighted to be this year's recipient of the Predoctoral Fellowship Grant. I would like to very much thank the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology for giving me this honor and supporting me in the final investigations of my PhD.

My interest in vertebrate skeletal anatomy goes back to my childhood, although my passion for vertebrate dissection was rather underappreciated by classmates and parents at the time. Forays into the public shale pit of nearby Holzmaden and other publicly accessible sites in my school years compounded my interest in extinct and extant vertebrate life.

I commenced study at Tübingen University, Germany, in 1997, and graduated in late 2003 with the German equivalent of a master's degree. My thesis, supervised by Prof. W. Maier, was on comparative ontogeny of the neonatal arctoid carnivore otic region. It was probably the weeks of gluing together styrofoam models of histological sections for this study that have sparked my current passion for computer tomography.

After some time volunteering at the South Australian Museum, I started my PhD at The University of New South Wales, Australia, in early 2004. My project involves aspects of the evolution of the postcranial skeleton in marsupials, with a emphasis on autopodial anatomy. I focus on questions of diversity, convergence, locomotor prediction, and ontogeny. Methods include character mapping, phylogenetically corrected analysis of morphometric datasets, variance/covariance matrix comparison approaches, clear-staining procedures, CT-scans and 3D volume processing, event-pair analysis of ossification sequences, and anatomical analysis of fossil species for paleoecological inference. The last component of my PhD aims to investigate ontogenetic factors impacting on mammalian postcranial evolution by assessing ossification sequences of several marsupial species and comparing them to placental data provided by my co-advisor, Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra.

The Predoctoral Fellowship Grant will allow me to complete the ontogenetic component of my PhD by conducting an extensive ontogenetic study of a developmental series of monotremes from museum collections across Australia, using Micro-Computer tomography. I hope to give the first detailed account of monotreme ossification sequences and details of growth in skeletal elements. Because monotremes are an ancient sister lineage to therian mammals, investigation of their skeletal ontogeny is the only approach to directly test some paradigms regarding the evolution of mammalian ontogenetic patterns and its influence on mammalian postcranial evolution.

Photo courtesy of Vera Weisbecker.