Cranial osteology of Tyrannoneustes - Author Interview

Today’s Interview with an Author is with Davide Foffa, first author on “The cranial osteology of Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos (Crocodylomorpha: Metriorhynchidae) from the Middle Jurassic of Europe”, an article that we published last week. We were very interested in hearing more about his research on paleontology and his experience with us.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

AF: I am from a small town (Salo’) on the shore of Lake Garda, in northern Italy. I studied Geological Science in Pisa (Italy) and then I moved to Bristol (UK) for a Master of Science in Palaeobiology. After my MSc I stayed in Bristol for 2 more years continuing my research before moving to Scotland to start my PhD at University of Edinburgh at the beginning of September. Since my Msc project, I have worked on Mesozoic Marine Reptiles, focusing on their anatomy, taxonomy, biomechanics, form and function; this is an area of interest which I will keep on exploring during my PhD.

imageCredit: Davide Foffa

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

AF: Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos is a marine crocodile (metriorhynchid) from the Middle Jurassic (about 165 mya ago). A mandible and few post-cranial elements from a young adult specimen was described in 2013 by Dr. Mark Young (who is the other author on the paper and one of my supervisors in Edinburgh) and colleagues, but until now there was no skull associated which could be referred to this species. Our research fills in this gap. We described 3 more specimens which include the first 2 skulls referable to Tyrannoneustes. This is important because the new information allows us to better understand the feeding ecology of this animal. For example we were able to confirm and expand the concept that Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos may feed on much larger prey items than their contemporaneous relatives–which were more typical fish-feeding animals.

Moreover one of the new specimen that we describe belong to an individual which we estimated was ~5 meter in total length, and yet was not fully grown. This makes Tyrannoneustes one of the largest metriorhynchid and, up to date, the largest in the Middle Jurassic European seas.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

AF: I was invited to take part to this project by Dr. Mark Young. Originally we had a single specimen to describe. However after the first round of review, Mark realized that there were some misidentified/unstudied specimens which could belong to the same species. And he was right! This required me to spend some more time visiting different museum’s collections. It was a great opportunity to assess all these new materials. The new specimens added further material and a lot of effort to re-structure the paper, but I can confidently say that all the extra-work contributed to produce a better piece of research.

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

AF: What is most surprising for me is the size of Tyrannoneustes. We realized immediately that the new specimen was definitely larger than the one described in Young et al. (2013). I have previously said that this was probably the largest metriorhynchid swimming in the Middle Jurassic seas and yet it was probably not the apex predator in its ecosystem. In fact, there were other marine reptiles called pliosaurids, and some of them (e.g. Liopleurodon) were considerably larger then Tyrannoneustes.

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

AF: I hope that this may be a way for the general public to become interested in palaeontology and particularly in this group of animals. Everyone knows and loves dinosaurs but that is not the end of the story! Under the sea, during the very same time when dinosaurs were dwelling on land, there was a fascinating number of marine reptiles.

Of course I hope that people will appreciate the importance of the discovery but also the way it was pursued: by looking at museum collections. There is still an enormous quantity of material that needs careful and modern revision.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

AF: Well, now I will focus on my PhD. My task for the few next years will be to study and compare closely the anatomy of the different groups of marine reptiles from the UK.

PJ: If you had unlimited resources (money, lab equipment, trained personnel, participants, etc.), what study would you run?

AF: Mmmh… This is a tough one. I would probably try to organize a project (on Mesozoic Marine Reptiles possibly!) which would involve itself with every step of a typical palaeontological discovery. This would include field expeditions, laboratories for fossil preparation and the final array of analysis and studies we can conduct nowadays. If I had unlimited resources I would make available a laboratory filled with the state of art equipment and facilities (CT scanner, 3D printers; microscopes; computers/softwares; training sessions, etc..). Ideally such a project would allow all the personnel to be able to engage (and get trained) with both traditional palaeontology skills but also to be update with the latest developments in the field. This means in particular, an environment which allows the users to discuss, adopt and even develop cutting-edge techniques and methods.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

AF: I am personally a big OA supporter. I was well aware of the journal (through Twitter, mainly) way before deciding to submit to it. Then Mark and I were invited by two colleagues to submit here, so we took the opportunity!

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about your overall experience with us? Anything surprising?

AF: I was very impressed by the rapidity of the review and positively surprised by the flexibility of the review process. The editor understood that the new specimens we found would have required more time for us to submit our revised manuscript, and they were happy to extend the resubmission deadline. This allowed us to take our time to carefully study the collections and produce a better piece of work than we could have if we were under the pressure of a strictly enforced deadline.

imageCredit: Davide Foffa

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

AF: The submission was incredibly straightforward and user friendly. It is certainly something that positively distinguishes PeerJ from other journals. As said, we experienced a very positive review process: it was very quick, professional and comprehensive!

PJ: Did you get any comments from your colleagues about your publication with PeerJ?

AF: Yes we did! Many of them congratulated us and we had some positive feedback from colleagues, which is always nice to hear!

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

AF: I would absolutely encourage my colleagues to submit to PeerJ. I already did, in fact!

PJ: Anything else you would like to talk about?

AF: I would like to thank again all the people who helped in various ways in this project. In particular Lorna Steel (NHMUK), Phil Hurst (photography department of NHMUK), Glenys Wass (PETMG), Matt Riley (CAMSM) and of course the PeerJ Academic Editors and reviewers! I take this chance to thank again Dr. Mark Young, first of all for entrusting me with this project, then for the guidance and invaluable help and effort he put in this work.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

AF: Professional, straightforward, fast.

PJ: Many thanks for your time!

AF: Thank you for the opportunity!

Join thousands of satisfied authors, and experience the future of publishing. Submit your next article to PeerJ or PeerJ PrePrints.


Insect fossils in the Late Jurassic lagoon of France - Interview with an Author

During the course of two field expeditions in 2012 and 2013, French researchers working with the help of two active teams of amateur scientists (Société des Naturalistes et Archéologues de l’Ain and the Group ‘Sympetrum Recherche et Protection des Libellules’) discovered the first Upper Jurassic insects from the Orbagnoux outcrop, together with traces of activities of these organisms on leaves and in the sediment. The newly discovered insect was described today, in PeerJ.

We were interested in learning more about this work, so we invited the first author, André Nel, to comment on his research and his experience publishing with us.

imagePJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

AN: I am a Professor at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris, France. I study fossil insects, and I’ve been working on this subject since 1980.

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ

AN: We worked on the marine limestone in the area around Orbagnoux (France) and recorded the first Upper Jurassic insects and the traces of their activities. Although such fossils are well known in Siberia, China, and Germany, none had been identified in our country until now.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

AN: This area of the French Alps was well known for their fish and plant fossils, but no one had ever looked for insects around there. A friend of mine (Claire Griot) lives there, but I never had the opportunity to go and visit the site. She contacted me three years ago and invited me to explore the site, just in case there would be something. So this is really thanks to her that this discovery happened! It’s also through the great help of the very active local naturalists and citizen scientists in the field that we found this new material.

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

AN: To be honest, I didn’t believe we would find something on site! Not a single insect fossil has been recorded in this area since the first paleontological investigations in the 19th century!


Fossilized aquatic bug from the Orbagnoux outcrop of the Rhone valley: Gallomesovelia grioti (scale bar 1 mm) - Photo:André Nel

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

AN: A collaboration between scientific researchers and citizen scientists is an asset, and it helps towards finding extraordinary new data for science.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

AN: We want to look for new material! Earlier this year, we went back to Orbagnoux and we found a new type of insect activity on plant fossils (and maybe new insects that we are currently studying).

PJ: If you had unlimited resources, what study would you run?

AN: There are many outcrops that are not well studied due to the lack of resources. I would hire a highly motivated research assistant, and I would encourage the search for fossil insects in France. Palaeoentomology is not an expensive science, and it can give quite important new data on the evolution of continents and life, as insects constitute about 60-70% of the world biodiversity.

PJ: Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

AN: I am convinced that this manuscript is the result of an active interaction between citizen scientists, scientific researchers, and reviewers. We wanted to make the review process as transparent as possible, so everybody could have access to it.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

AN: A colleague in our lab, Philippe Grandcolas, is an Academic Editor for PeerJ and highly recommended us to submit our manuscript to PeerJ.

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

AN: The process was quick and friendly.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

AN: Active promising journal

PJ: Many thanks for your time!

If you also like bigger fossils, check out some of our Paleontology publications in PeerJ. We have thousands of highly satisfied authors. If you would like to experience the PeerJ process for yourself, then submit your next article to us!


Cervical ribs in mammals - why it matters

Last month, we published “Extraordinary incidence of cervical ribs indicates vulnerable condition in Late Pleistocene mammoths”, which received quite a bit of attention in the press. In this article, Frietson Galis and her group describe the presence of a cervical rib in Woolly mammoths providing some clues about their decline and eventual extinction.

We felt it would be informative to ask Dr Galis how she became interested in cervical ribs in mammoths. She told us that she was in fact interested in cervical ribs in all mammals!

Such a rib is attached to the seventh vertebra and this signifies a change of the normally extremely constant number of neck vertebrae from 7 into 6. Giraffes with long necks have 7 neck vertebrae and the short-necked dolphins also. Ribs are normally only attached to thoracic vertebrae and the presence of a rib on the seventh vertebra indicates a change of identity of a neck vertebra into a thoracic one. Study of exceptional mammals with an aberrant number of neck vertebrae has taught us that this change almost unavoidably comes with side effects and congenital anomalies. Thus, finding cervical ribs is always interesting for me and in the case of the Woolly mammoth it is extra exciting, as it provides us with unexpected insights into their condition before getting extinct.”

Dr Andrew Farke (Academic Editor on this article) also thinks this study generates some cool ideas to test. “This work is interesting because it uncovers a neat potential line of future research—developmental anomalies in animals under environmental stress”, he said. “Although this type of work is still in its infancy, I am excited to see how it develops. I do wonder if these sorts of anomalies can be used in studies of contemporary animals, too—perhaps for species of strong conservation importance”.

We couldn’t agree more with Dr Farke, and also hope that in the near future more researchers will use fossils to study developmental pathologies.

We encourage you to check out some of our other paleontology publications in PeerJ.


Live Event - ‘Ask Me Anything Journal Club’ with the Dino Joe authors

We are pleased to announce that this Wednesday, 13th November, from 8 am – 10 am PST (4 pm – 6 pm UK time) two of the authors of the recent ‘baby hadrosaur’ (‘Dino Joe’) article will be online and fielding questions on any aspect of their article, or of their work in general. This is your chance to find out how paleontology is performed in the open science era, and to ask Andy Farke and Sarah Werning anything at all. Yes - anything!
For this live event visit https://www.peerj.com/ask/dinojoe/. Your questions can be left at any time - before, during or after the event - and the authors will be online and interacting on Wednesday. As the ‘questioner’ you are able to ‘accept’ any answer (indicating that it sufficiently answered your question) and any participant can vote answers up or down as they wish.


Fig 6 - Reconstruction of the skull of Parasaurolophus sp..
So mark your calendar, and visit https://www.peerj.com/ask/dinojoe/ from 8 am PST on Wednesday to interact with Andy Farke, Sarah Werning and Dino Joe.


The Reception to Dino Joe

On Tuesday, we published Ontogeny in the tube-crested dinosaur Parasaurolophus (Hadrosauridae) and heterochrony in hadrosaurids” by Dr. Andrew Farke et al.

This fascinating paper describes the most complete skeleton ever found of Parasaurolophus, a duck-billed and plant-eating dinosaur. It’s also the youngest: The fossil is a rare baby dinosaur, under a year old when it died 75 million years ago. It got a lot of great coverage including spots on NBC LA, CCTV, Utah Public RadioSlate, Nature Magazine, Science Magazine, The Guardian and many others.


With well over 20,000 views of the peer-reviewed paper (in the first 3 days alone), and over 100,000 visitors to the museum’s custom web-site, this is already the most read paper that PeerJ has published, and is clearly one of the most accessed (as well as accessible) paleontology discoveries ever. This publication is a testament to the power of open access, and so it was great timing to have published it in Open Access Week.

Given the broad attention the article generated, we asked Dr Farke to tell us in his own words about his incredible, but tiring, week.

AF: “What happens when you publish the world’s most open access dinosaur? Pure pandemonium!

On Tuesday, my co-authors (recently graduated high school students Derek Chok, Annisa Herrero, and Brandon Scolieri, along with paleontologist Sarah Werning) and I published a paper in PeerJ describing the nearly complete skeleton from a baby Parasaurolophus. Beyond the “gee-whiz” factor of a dinosaur fossil (found by another high school student!), the specimen nicknamed “Joe” tells us a whole bunch about how an iconic plant eating dinosaur grew some bizarre headgear. We also decided to make this the most open access dinosaur ever—not only was the paper published in an open access journal, but all of the digital scans and imagery were archived to Figshare. Although parts and pieces of digital scans had been made public for other fossils, this was the most comprehensive dataset yet available for any dinosaur. Because these sorts of scan files aren’t necessarily easily accessible to the general public, we set up a website (www.dinosaurjoe.org), so that anyone could view the fossil from all angles in 3D without the aid of specialized software.

Of course, we wanted to let people know that an open access dinosaur had arrived! We crafted a press release and sent it out the week before publication, and waited. And waited. I was a little worried that we had sent it out too soon, or that it had landed without a sound.

Fortunately, those worries were unfounded. By the time that the publication date rolled around, things were completely out of control! The phones at the museum were ringing off the hook, television trucks were lined up on the road outside the exhibit hall, and over 100,000 visitors saw the specimen on-line. It was a fantastic day for our museum, our school, and open science.

On a personal level, I am proud of the results of the efforts of everyone involved. Kevin Terris, the high school student from The Webb Schools who found the fossil, rightfully received global recognition for his incredible find. Brandon Scolieri, Derek Chok, and Annisa Herrero, the three Webb students who helped write the paper, did an incredible job on their specific research focuses. Sarah Werning's work on bone tissue allowed us to estimate the age of the dinosaur, adding critical context to the study. This all added up to a comprehensive paper. And most of all, I am proud of how open the study is! It is truly amazing to be able to share this fossil with the world, so completely. PeerJ helped this happen!

Two things really capped this experience for me. The first was seeing the well-deserved congratulations pour in for Kevin Terris on his discovery. This is not his last major find, and I am also excited that a paper he co-authored during his time at Webb will be published before the end of the year! The second highlight of this week was a set of comments from Ben Richmond, writing about the open access angle of the find for The Motherboard blog at Vice.com:

"It allows people like me who never get to touch dinosaur skeletons, even if we really want to, to spin Joe around and look at him up close from any angle we want…If this is the future of museums, museums [are] going to be awesome for a long time."

For those of us who want to share our fossils with the world, can it get any better than this?”

Dr. Andy Farke


The skeleton of “Joe” the baby Parasaurolophus ready to meet the public. CC-BY, by Andy Farke.