How Can I Interpret Technical Papers?

27th August 2002

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With everything we've learned from the Dinosaur FAQ, it's time to start reading technical papers, so we can come up to speed with the cutting edge of dinosaur palaeontology.

Suppose I'm interested in the biomechnical problems faced by very large sauropods, so I've managed to obtain a copy of the paper in which Sauroposeidon, the ludicrously tall brachiosaurid, was described and named (in accordance with the instructions in ``How can I obtain technical papers?'' )

What does it actually mean?


Here is the opening of the paper - the titles and abstract (reproduced without the permission of the lead author, Matt Wedel, - I must rememdy this!)

The hot terms in this abstract link down the page to their interpretations.


1Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, 2401 Chautauqua, Norman, Oklahoma 73072;
2Department of Radiological Sciences University Hospital, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73190

ABSTRACT - Sauroposeidon proteles, a new brachiosaurid sauropod, is represented by an articulated series of four mid-cervical vertebrae recovered from the Antlers Formation Aptian-Albian of southeastern Oklahoma. Most Early Cretaceous North American sauropod material has been referred to to Pleurocoelus, a genus which is largely represented by juvenile material and is not well understood. Regardless of the status and affinities of Pleurocoelus, the new taxon is morphologically and proportionally distinct. Among the well-known sauropod taxa, Sauroposeidon is most similar to Brachiosaurus; particularly noteworthy are the neural spines, which are set forward on the centra and are not bifurcate, and the extremely enlongate cervical ribs. Sauroposeidon and Brachiosaurus also share a derived pattern of pneumatic vertebral ultrastructure and a mid-cervical transition point, at which the neural spine morphology changes from very low (anteriorly) to very high (posteriorly). Autapomorphies of Sauroposeidon include posterior placement of the diapophyses, hypertrophied pneumatic fossae in the lateral faces of the neural spines and centra, and an extraordinary degree of vertebral enlongation (e.g., C8 = 1.25 m; 25% longer than Brachiosaurus). Additional sauropod material from the Early Cretaceous Cloverly Formation may be referrable to the new Oklahoma sauropod, which appears to be the last of the giant North American sauropods and represents the culmination of brachiosaurid trends towards lengthening and lightening of the neck.

Let's pick this apart and see what it means. Most importantly, we'll see where to find out the meanings of the bits that we don't understand immediately. (I'm assuming that you already know what words like ``sauropod'' means - otherwise why did you bother getting hold of the paper?)

brachiosaurid: we know from ``What's the difference between Tyrannosauridae, Tyrannosaurinae, etc.?'' that a word ending in ``id'' is an informal name meaning a member of the family whose name is the same, but ending in ``idae'' - in the case, the Brachiosauridae. We also know (from the same FAQ) that this is the name of the family of which Brachiosaurus is the type species. So when Sauroposeidon is described as a ``brachiosaurid sauropod'', we know that it's quite closely related to Brachiosaurus, and shares its general body shape: big body, long tail and especially neck, with the front legs longer than the back legs.

articulated: we know from [not yet written] that articulated bones were found in the relative positions that they had in life. In the case of the vertebra, this means that they were found lying end-to-end.

mid-cervical: the vertrebae were from the middle of the neck: see [not yet written]

Aptian-Albian: we know from [not yet written] that the Aptian and Albian are the last two sub-periods of the Early Cretaceous, ranging from 121 to 99 million years ago.

### Many more terms to be defined here!

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