DinoFest 2019: The Origins of Dinosaurs

In 2019, our lineup of guest speakers explored the Origin of Dinosaurs. See a synopsis of each lecture and watch the recorded videos below.

Can't get enough DinoFest? Explore past years' themes and speakers here.

Kathleen Ritterbush

Floating Fortresses of the Jurassic Seas

A global mass extinction paved the way for dinosaurs to conquer the land, and for strange – and lazy – creatures to fill the oceans. Seafloors hosted meadows of sponges, as large spiral-shelled ammonites swam above. New research tests the possible swimming speeds of these extinct squid-relatives, and suggests that the most abundant ammonites probably only swam fast during emergencies. Their shells were floating fortresses, lurking beneath the surface. See Kathleen's complete speaker bio here.

Sterling Nesbitt

Becoming a Dinosaur: New Fossils of Dinosaur Relatives Reshapes Our Ideas of How we Identify Dinosaurs

For over a century, Mesozoic dinosaurs were easy to identify because they contain a number unique skeletal characteristics. New fossils of early dinosaurs and their close relatives from the Triassic Period show that many of the previously ‘unique’ dinosaur characteristics are either absent or also found in their closest relatives. This demonstrates that dinosaurs inherited almost all of their seemingly unique characteristics from their close relatives and that, dinosaurs only became distinctive as a result of the extinction of their close relatives at the end of the Triassic. See Sterling's complete speaker bio here.

Kenneth Angielczyk

Extinction, Incumbency, and the Rise of Dinosaurs

The Age of Dinosaurs began in the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in Earth history. The extinction destroyed stable communities that were dominated by ancient mammal relatives, and new research shows the emergency of forerunners of dinosaurs and crocodiles coincided with the building of stable ecosystems. More broadly, the work elucidates the roles of extinction and recovery in the removal of previously ecologically-dominant groups of animals, allowing upstarts like dinosaurs to diversify. See Kenneth's complete speaker bio here.

Jessica Whiteside

Climate Catastrophe at Dawn of Age of Dinosaurs: Insights from Ancient Chemical Clues

The reasons dinosaurs became the dominant reptile group on land during the Mesozoic are still largely shrouded in mystery, and many workers have suggested that Triassic climates played a role in shaping early dinosaur evolution. Dr. Whiteside will discuss how geochemical clues from fossilized molecules preserved in Triassic-Jurassic rocks can provide key insights into climates and microbial ecosystems during the dawn of the dinosaurs. These new data help answer how climate and microbes affected the early evolution of dinosaurs, and may have led to conditions that allowed dinosaurs to diversify.

Nathan Smith

Dinosaurs on Ice: Evolutionary Morphology and Biogeography of Early Jurassic Dinosaurs from Antarctica

The Hanson Formation on Mt. Kirkpatrick in the Central Transantarctic Mountains has yielded a diverse Early Jurassic terrestrial fauna, which includes the saurischian dinosaurs Cryolophosaurus, Glacialisaurus, and several new early sauropodomorphs. These species fill critical gaps in our understanding of early dinosaur evolution and their geographic distribution, and are helping us understand how polar dinosaur communities evolved through time. See Nathan's complete speaker bio here.

Celina Suarez

Volcanoes, the End Triassic Extinction, and the Diversification of Dinosaurs: A Utah Prospective

The Late Triassic-Early Jurassic witnessed not only one of the ‘Big Five’ mass extinctions, but also paved the way for the diversification of dinosaurs. The End-Triassic extinction was likely caused by the rapid climatic changes that occurred due to rapid emission of carbon from volcanism associated with the rifting of the supercontinent Pangea. This event offers a unique analogue for modern climate change. Dr. Suarez will discuss the record of the end-Triassic mass extinction and related climate changes in Utah, and how we attain such a record. See Celina's complete speaker bio here.

Michelle Stocker

The Triassic Did It First: Dinosaurs Converged on Earlier Reptile Body Plans

Dinosaurs possessed a wide range of iconic shapes and sizes, from the largest terrestrial animals, sauropods, to ceratopsians bearing extensive crests and horns on their heads. However, Triassic archosaurian reptiles and their close relatives displayed a remarkable range of body shapes that only later evolved in dinosaurs. This early exploration of classically dinosaurian body plans and possibly ecologies by Triassic archosaurs may have been a response to the end-Permian mass extinction, laying the groundwork for dinosaurian success later in the Mesozoic. See Michelle's complete speaker bio here.

Randall Irmis

Temperature Elevated: The Hothouse World of Triassic Utah

Utah was a very different place 210 million years ago, as early dinosaurs eked out their existence in a warm world without polar ice caps and with high atmosphericcarbon dioxide levels. New discoveries in southern Utah are revealing how this environment shaped ecosystems on land, which contained a diversity of animals ranging from large flat-headed amphibians to giant crocodile-like phytosaurs, and armored plant-eating reptiles called aetosaurs. Discover how these new finds tell us about the prelude to a mass extinction. See Randy's complete speaker bio here.

Adam Pritchard

Rise of the Reptiles: Diapsid Lineages from the Permo-Triassic Transition

Before dinosaurs evolved, their ancestors and the ancestors of modern lizards, crocodylians, and turtles were a small part of global ecosystems. A mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period 252 million years ago and rapid evolution produced the incredible range of reptile body plans that filled Triassic ecosystems. This vast array of species includes long-necked tanystropheids, chameleon-mimic drepanosaurs, bird-beaked trilophosaurs, and other new fossil discoveries. These early reptiles set the stage for the origin of dinosaurs and lived alongside the earliest dinosaurs throughout the Triassic Period. See Adam's complete speaker bio here.

Sarah Werning

Telling the Life Stories of the Earliest Dinosaurs (& their friends)

Description: Many questions about dinosaur lives are hard to answer from looking at their fossil skeletons or footprints. By looking inside the bones, at microscopic cells and tissues, paleontologists can tell the life story of the earliest dinosaurs (how many years they lived, whether they were warm-blooded or cold-blooded, how fast they grew up) and compare them to other animals who lived at the same time. See Sarah's complete speaker bio here.

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