- Stirton Symposium: on R. A. Stirton's trips to Australia in the 50's and 60's. Many speakers sung Stirt's praises, which got a little repetitious towards the end ("He preferred to be called 'Stirt' " was mentioned in at least 5 different talks). Apparently Stirt discovered almost half of all known mammal fossil sites in Australia, which led to an intriguing suggestion by Tom Rich that more fossils could be found in, for example, fissure fill or impact crater fill, and we just need to go out and find them! If we all had the time and money, I think we would.
- Phylogenetics Symposium: molecular data versus morphological data (old summary of what this is/why it matters here). I'll admit up-front that I've done little phylogenetic work myself, so this symposium was very educational. Johannes Müller started by suggesting that although molecular techniques can produce some unorthodox hypotheses about the evolution and relatedness of taxa, instead of dismissing them outright, morphologists should see this as an opportunity to test the new theories. The following presentations were a mixture of pro-molecular or pro-morphology analyses, with some integration of the two. Obviously still some disagreements in this field...
- Palaeoecology Symposium: comparing modern ecosystems with ancient ecosystems. Lee Lyman began by reminding us all that conservation targets shouldn't be static - there isn't a magic number or distribution of species that is 'correct', as they have and will naturally change all the time regardless of human impact. Evidence for this is in the fossil record, with other speakers expanding on what that evidence is: mesowear, trace elements, and isotopes in teeth, pollen preserved in stalactites and stalagmites, ancient DNA and stable isotopes from eggshell, body fossils, and mathematical models (such as GRIWM).
- General sessions: ranging from megafauna to dinosaurs, fossils to footprints. Presentations included topics on functional morphology and ecology, faunal response to quaternary climate change, early vertebrate evolution (including Devonian placoderm fish), dinosaur fossils and ichnofossils, and new Cenozoic taxa. The majority of presentations focused on mammalian and marsupial palaeontology. There were a few archaeology presentations, including one very interesting talk by Silvana Tridico on the form and function of mammoth hair (it was blonde/translucent in colour, not red, by the way).
I explained the results of my decay experiments, that croc carcasses allowed to decay in water will float, and disarticulate upon sinking, even in the absence of water currents or large scavengers. It was well received, with lots of chats about taphonomy at the lunch break afterwards. It may be obvious to you all, but it is now abundantly clear to me: if you want an easier time networking at conferences, present a talk or poster!
I was very fortunate to take out the prize for 'Best Student Oral Presentation' along with Shimona Kealy (a UNSW Honours student who presented a very impressive total evidence phylogeny of Dasyuromorphia). Go us! I received a lovely trophy (pictured above) which showcases examples of vertebrate fossils found in Australia (including a Thylacoleo tooth, crocodile scute, turtle plastron, dinosaur bone, shark teeth etc...) as well as funds for research related activities. I already have a plan for the prize winnings: funding my trip to NAPC in Florida next February. Bring on more conference talks and networking!