The first day of the 70th annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting was chock-full of dinosaur talks. Fans of ornithischian dinosaurs—the hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs, stegosaurs, pachycehpalosaurs, horned dinosaurs and their kin—had a lot to cheer about. There is a flood of new species, and new evolutionary comparisons are refining the relationships of some familiar species and, in some cases, are suggesting that there is much left to be discovered. Two researchers agreed to let me give you a sneak peek at research that is changing our understanding of dinosaur diversity and evolution.
From documentaries to technical papers, the armored dinosaur Euoplocephalus has often been taken as the quintessential ankylosaur. It seemed to occupy a long range of time and be represented by a wide array of skeletal material. Things are not as clean and neat as they seem. Just last year University of Alberta grad student Victoria Arbour and two others showed that some of the bones scientists had been calling Euoplocephalus really belonged to the distinct genus Dyoplosaurus, which had been named in 1924. This was not the only ankylosaur that was hiding within Euoplocephalus. At least one, and possibly two, other ankylosaurs have probably been mistakenly lumped into the genus. Arbour is continuing her efforts to tease apart the taxonomic mess in the hope that we will be able to get a clearer picture of ankylosaur diversity at the end of the Cretaceous in North America.
The year 2010 might as well be known as the "Year of the Ceratopsians." From the Torosaurus = Triceratops debate to peculiar ceratopsian forms found in unexpected places, our understanding of these dinosaurs is rapidly changing. Paleontologist Andy Farke and colleagues will soon be adding another taxa to the mix. As he introduced it to colleagues Sunday morning, the new species looks like "the love child of Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus." The only thing more bizarre than its looks was the fact that the specimen sat virtually unnoticed on a museum shelf for about a century. Nor was it the only new ceratopsian introduced during the first two days of the conference, and by present indications there are still many new species waiting to be found.