Online Program Schedule

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Session Schedule & Abstracts

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Sunday 3rd July, 2016

Plenary Session 5: Stephanie Pierce

Room: Salon D–E   8:15 am–9:30 am

Moderator(s): J. Wyneken
PLN5-1  8:15 am  Form, function, and fossils: modern twists on ancient evolutionary transitions. Pierce SE*, Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Abstract: The vertebrate tree of life is filled with weird and wonderful animals that recount an evolutionary journey that has fascinated us for generations. Of particular interest, are the extensive morphological, functional, and environmental transformations that resulted in vertebrate biodiversity as we know it today. Our knowledge and understanding of major events in vertebrate evolution continues to be remodeled by new discoveries, both paleontological and neontological, and with the advent of new technologies and analytical toolkits. My research team investigates ancient evolutionary transitions, focusing on interpreting functional shifts through the fossil record. To achieve this, we study extant and extinct animals, utilizing state-of-the-art methodologies that allow us to capture, explore, and interpret morphology and function from various perspectives. Here I will introduce a selection of active research endeavors in my lab, the questions we seek to answer and the techniques we are using in the process. I'll tackle three classic vertebrate transitions: 1) the fish-tetrapod transition and the evolution of terrestrial locomotion; 2) the dinosaur-bird transition and the acquisition of the flexible avian neck; and 3) the "reptile"-mammal transition and the origin of mammalian gaits. Although these projects appear unrelated, all are designed to investigate the hidden complexities of musculoskeletal form and function in order to elucidate the underlying principles governing vertebrate movement. We accomplish this by building comparative data sets from extant animals—to uncover trends and to validate techniques—and use these to make informed decisions about the fossil taxa under study. The ultimate goal is to reanimate the fossil remains of extinct animals bridging transitional boundaries and reveal how adaptive/functional complexes are assembled and transformed with greater precision and clarity.

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