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:

Qiaowanlong fossil block, partly prepared, showing articulated right pelvis in anteromedial view

Qiaowanlong fossil block, partly prepared, showing articulated right pelvis in anteromedial view

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.

Qiaowanlong-1-480px

Qiaowanlong-2-480px

Qiaowanlong-6-480px

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16 Responses to “More on Qiaowanlong already”


  1. 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.

    I agree with all these points except the “no one cites it” thing…my understanding is that the supplementary info files are basically to be considered appendices to the “main” paper, so citing the main paper includes the supplementary information. But I agree that it still don’t cut the mustard…!

  2. Tor Bertin Says:

    Very interesting!

    Unfortunately my knowledge of muscularature is very minimal–any thoughts on what the enlarged distal portion of the pubis could imply about locomotion?


  3. “Someone recently analysed this on the Dinosaur Mailing List — sadly I can’t find this message in the archives — and found that less than half of all dinosaurs described in S&N in the last twenty years have been properly described elsewhere since then.”

    That was me-

    http://dml.cmnh.org/2009Aug/msg00192.html

    My conclusion was of all 33 theropods described in Nature, 25 (76%) have yet to be fully described in a published work. Of the 18 taxa described at least a decade ago, 13 (72%) have yet to be fully described.

  4. Mike Keesey Says:

    “You wrote that ‘One thing I’m sure is that the pelvic is articulated…”

    I did?

    “You Hai-Lu, lead author of the Proc. B paper…”

    God damn, was that ever confusing.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    “God damn, was that ever confusing.”

    Yes, I am still waiting for the day when You and He collaborate on a paper :-)

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    Oh, and Mickey, thanks for the link to that DML message — very salutory, and isn’t it good to occasionally have some, you know, data? :-) I’ve updated the post with the link and the corrected findings.

    (The reason I couldn’t find this when I was searching last night is that I’d forgotten you limited your analysis the theropod descriptions, so I was using Rapetosaurus and Jobaria as search terms.)

  7. Nathan Myers Says:

    Yes, I am still waiting for the day when You and He collaborate on a paper :-)

    May I recommend putting a digit after the name (YOU1, YOU2, YOU3, YOU4) according as the tone is rising, falling, etc.? Besides avoiding confusion with English words, it avoids confusion with other Chinese names.

  8. Nima Says:

    A beautiful find, if a bit small for my taste :)

    That pelvis is WITHOUT A DOUBT Brachiosaurid. I for one would stake my PhD on it (if I actually had one LOL!)

    Of course, bifid neural spines on a brachiosaur raise ALL SORTS of questions. This guy probably had a vertical neck just like Mamenchisaurus rather than a lower diplodocid type neck… of course that begs the question of why macronarians evolved bifid neck spines in the first place. They’re not honkin’ huge bifids like in Apatosaurus, but they must serve some purpose.

    What I’m really interested in is if this specimen has a skull (or at least a partial skull). Brachiosaur morphological diversity is a topic that definitely needs a good look. I’ve done a drawing of all the major known genera of Brachiosaurs (with educated guesses of the shapes of less complete specimens) that will come out in the next issue of Prehistoric Times. But had I known about Qiaowanlong then, I would have revised the image to include it!

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    So much certainty, so little exposition. Nima, it’s great that you think the pelvis is WITHOUT A DOUBT brachiosaurid, but unless you tell us the reasons for thinking so, we’re none the wiser. In terms of gross proportions at least (the pubis much longer than the ischium) it more closely resembles for example Rapetosaurus (see Curry Rogers 2001:fig. 2h) or even Opisthocoelicaudia (see Borsuk-Bialynicka 1977:fig 12). I’m not saying it’s a titanosaur — far from it — but I don’t see how you can be so sure that WITHOUT A DOUBT it’s brachiosaurid.

    And then this: “This guy probably had a vertical neck just like Mamenchisaurus rather than a lower diplodocid type neck”. What makes you think that Mamenchisaurus had a vertical neck? There are sound mechanical reasons for thinking that probably it habitually held its neck more closely to horizontal than most sauropods. I’m more than happy to hear arguments to the contrary — but they really do need to be actual arguments, not just assertions.

    No skull in the Qiaowanlong specimen, no — sorry. If there was one, the authors would definitely have mentioned it in the paper! I hope we’ll get to see your Prehistoric Times artwork: is it posted online anywhere?


  10. Quick nomenclature question… why “B.” _brancai_ and not just Giraffatitan? I usually see quotes used for species pending re-assignment to a new genus that hasn’t been named yet. Or are the specimens assigned to “B.” _brancai_ headed for more than one new genus…?

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Why “B.” _brancai_ and not just Giraffatitan? I usually see quotes used for species pending re-assignment to a new genus that hasn’t been named yet

    As a wise man wrote … “Wait for the paper!”

    (With luck, it should only be a few days. Better get a blog post prepared.)

  12. Mike Keesey Says:

    This should be interesting … there’s more to it than, “I hate the name Giraffatitan,” I take it?

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Let’s just say it’s the only paper I’ve ever seen where the Acknowledgements end with an apology.

  14. David Marjanović Says:

    Besides avoiding confusion with English words, it avoids confusion with other Chinese names.

    Yeah. Ji Qiang and Ji Shu’an do not have the same surname. And Wāng Xiǎolín (one of the few for whom I know all tones… well, I’m not quite sure about the last one…) does not share his surname with 200 million people; that one is Wáng.

  15. Johan Wikberg Says:

    Just write the name in Chinese (”杨钟健”) once (the first time you use it) to properly identify it. Putting tones to the syllable seems pointless, as, say, Li with a falling tone can still have several different spellings.

  16. David Marjanović Says:

    At least it would nail the pronunciation. With characters, you run into simplified (PRC, Singapore) vs traditional (Hong Kong, Taiwan)… case in point: lóng (“dragon”): traditional: 龍, simplified: 龙. The character you used (健) is something different altogether.


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