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Filippp Bertozzo attends Cretaceous & Beyond: Paleontology of the Western Interior Conference

SPaRK researcher Filippp Bertozzo recently attended the Cretaceous & Beyond: Paleontology of the Western Interior Conference In North Dakota! Read his fascinating account here.

What a summer!

I arrived back in Belfast after 5 months spent travelling through the entire Northern Hemisphere of the World, from the Far East Russia to the West coast of North America. Here, I would like to describe my experience in the West coast, when I attended the “Cretaceous & Beyond: Paleontology of the Western Interior” conference in Dickinson, North Dakota, in September.

The symposium, organized by Dr. Denver Fowler and Dr. Liz Freedman Fowler from the local museum (Badlands Dinosaur Museum), was a small meeting between paleontologists working on the vertebrate fauna of the Northern American (US and Canada) formations spanning from the Early Cretaceous (about 145 millions of years ago) to the Early Paleogene (65 - 55 millions years ago). This was a crucial time in our geological and evolutionary history: the continents arrived in the position we see nowadays in our world maps, and the dinosaur reached their evolutionary peak to then be partially wiped out by the meteorite, hence giving the opportunity to the early mammals to colonize the world and evolve in a multitude of forms.

My PhD project aims to describe the distribution of fossilized lesions and diseases in a particular group of dinosaurs, called the ornithopods. They were herbivores, and they evolved in the Middle Jurassic and disappeared at the end of the Mesozoic, the dinosaur era. They also reached their evolutionary peak during the Cretaceous, so this symposium was the best opportunity to present part of my research project to the paleontological community! I presented a talk titled “A comparison of paleopathological lesions and diseases between Early and Late Cretaceous Ornithopod dinosaurs”, together with my QUB supervisors (Prof. Eileen Murphy and Dr. Alastair Ruffell), my external supervisor (Dr. Pascal Godefroit, Royal Belgian Museum of Natural Science, Brussel), and Darren Tanke (the senior preparator of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada, one of the best dinosaur paleopathologist around). In the talk, I showed preliminary results, and first hypotheses on how to describe the patterns of pathologies I saw and I’m seeing in the museum collections around the world (because, yes, there are patterns that distinguishes different group of species within Ornithopoda). I was lucky to see other paleopathological presentations, as well as new information on the state-of-the-art of my discipline, such as new species soon arriving. Small notice: I was the only European attending the event!

The meeting gave me the possibility to meet important North American paleontologists, and to overview the fossil collection at the Badlands Dinosaur Museum. The staff, together with the local university, goes every summer in the field, looking for new dinosaur bones, in strata corresponding to the Hell Creek Formation, a geological deposition from which numerous famous species were found, such as Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. From these rocks, a huge number of hadrosaur bones were and are extensively collected. Hadrosaurs are the most common type of ornithopods, and their large fossil record is extremely important for my research from a statistical point of view. I saw incredible specimens, and I was able to install new collaborations for future papers with the local paleontologists, we are currently working on something that might be … seriously important. Can’t say more, sorry!

After the meeting, I continued my travel across the US, visiting the collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman (Montana), the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont (California), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington DC), and the American Museum of Natural History (New York City).

Now I am finally back, ready to fix and finish my dataset of fossilized pathologies in ornithopod dinosaurs, which will take quite a good time of work, but amazing results are on the horizon! Stay tuned!

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