More on Qiaowanlong already
September 6, 2009
I know it’s a bit soon to follow up my own post, but I’ve been in correspondence with You Hai-Lu, lead author of the Proc. B paper describing the new putative brachiosaurid Qiaowanlong. He’s been very gracious in response to my questioning the new taxon, and I wanted to pass on the fruits of that exchange.
Most importantly, I’d questioned whether the three bones that make up the right pelvis of the type and only specimen might actually be from different individuals, as the pubis seems insanely huge. (As Tor Bertin pointed out in a comment, “the proximal end of the pubis is proportionally almost identical in [Qiaowanlong] as it is [in "B". brancai]–then it leads to the Distal End That Ate New York”.) You wrote that “One thing I’m sure is that the pelvic is articulated, and also associated with the cervicals. See the attached photo I used in my original submission.” — and here, with permission, is that figure:
This certainly clears up any question about the association of the pelvic bones (so Randy was right). You notes that since this figure was prepared, the serial identification of the cervicals has changed. I assume that “un” in the interpretive drawing on the right indicates unidentified bones, and it’s nice to think that further preparation might yield more secrets.
Regarding the likelihood of a full monographic description, You wrote that “Certainly, more work will follow on Qiaowanlong, but hard to see when this can be done.” I can sympathise, given the astonishing rate that new taxa are leaping out of the ground in China, but I do hope time can be found to get this done.
Other issues that came up in the comments which ought to be addressed:
- Mickey Mortimer asked “How many other brachiosaur-grade macronarians were included in the analysis?” Sorry I wasn’t clear in the original post — there is no cladistic analysis in the published paper; and You, in email, wrote “Let’s wait for a cladistic analysis to see what’s the future of Qiaowanlong will be”.
- Mickey also noted that “with how many basal titanosauriform taxa are known, and how much analyses can change with the addition or subtraction of one OTU, I don’t think we can say anything is a brachiosaurid or not besides Brachiosaurus itself.” Yes, that region of the tree is pretty unresolved right now, but Help Is On The Way! I know of at least two projects under way to do good cladistic jobs on the base of Titanosauriformes (neither of them by me in case anyone wondered!) So it should soon be possible to meaningfully shove taxa like Qiaowanlong into existing analyses.
- Randy made an important point that I’d glossed over in my anti-tabloid rant: “Publishing short-form articles in high-impact journals is absolutely necessary to get a job and get tenure at a research I university and/or major museums”. It’s true, I do tend to forget what an unusual position I’m in and that most other publishing palaeontologists have to wrestle with all sorts of dumbitude that I am, thankfully, insulated from. As things stand, we have a system in which appointment boards and funding committees what to see THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what actually serves science; and, yes, I do understand that people sometimes have to play that game, however dumb.
- Nathan asked “Actually, I don’t understand why Nature itself doesn’t have an online annex for long-enough versions of the articles”. I feel very strongly that Online Supplementary Information is NOT the answer. It doesn’t count as “published”, no-one cites it or trusts it, and journals are notoriously cavalier about losing OSIs. Try to download the supplement for the Rapetosaurus description if you don’t believe me.
- Yes, of course, publishing a brief description in Science, Nature or Proc. B and following up with a comprehensive description elsewhere (as suggested by Tor) is just fine. The problem is, not many people do it. Mickey Mortimer recently analysed this on the Dinosaur Mailing List — and found that only a quarter of the 33 theropods described in Nature in the last twenty-five years have been properly described elsewhere since then.
I’ll close with a sequence of field photographs of the Qiaowanlong excavation, again kindly provided by You and posted here with permission.