Postcranial anatomy of Pissarrachampsa sera – Author Interview

We recently published “Postcranial anatomy of Pissarrachampsa sera (Crocodyliformes, Baurusuchidae) from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil: insights on lifestyle and phylogenetic significance”. In this study, author Pedro L. Godoy and his colleagues discuss the results of a study of Pissarrachampsa sera.

Pedro comments on his research and experience publishing with us.

Field work Pissarrachampsa

Field work Pissarrachampsa

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

PG: I am a vertebrate paleontologist interested in crocodile (crocodyliforms) evolution. I have a background in biology (degree in Biology and masters in Comparative Biology, both from the University of São Paulo, Brazil), and I am doing my PhD (second year now) in Earth Sciences at the University of Birmingham (UK), focused on the ecological diversity of fossil crocs.

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

PG: This is basically a morphological description of the postcranial (postcranium is everything except the skull) material of Pissarrachampsa sera, a baurusuchid crocodyliform that lived during the Late Cretaceous (ca. 90 million years ago) of Brazil.

Pissarrachampsa was originally described in 2011 based only on cranial elements (two almost complete skulls). As with other baurusuchids, Pissarrachampsa was a large terrestrial top-predator of its time, reaching more than 2 meters in length. There are many morphological evidences that support these ecological assumptions for baurusuchids (i.e. the fossils allow us to say that they were large, terrestrial and carnivorous). However, very few works have addressed the postcranial anatomy of fossil crocs, and the picture is not different for baurusuchids. So, the description we present in this paper provides even more information about the lifestyle of these animals, since the postcranium of crocodyliforms can give us important insights about their ecology. In addition, to further explore a possible problem of the lack of postcranial information for fossil crocs, we performed exploratory analyses in order to test the influence of postcranial morphology in the phylogeny of crocodyliforms. Our results indicate that the postcranium can be very informative in terms of resolving the phylogenetic relationships of crocodyliforms but, as we have very few postcranial materials described so far (and, consequently, very little information on this part of the skeleton), their phylogeny is still very much based on the cranial morphology. So, the hope is that this will encourage more studies on the postcranium of fossil crocs.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

PG: I think so. This paper results from the effort of many people from the same research group (PaleoLab), at the University of São Paulo, in Ribeirão Preto (Brazil). Three of these people are now former students of this group (including me) but, when we started this project (in 2014) we were all still there in Brazil. However, an initial issue almost prevented us to start the project , and it is quite symptomatic in this case.  We knew that crocodyliform postcranial anatomy does not get much attention historically, and that meant it could be difficult to publish our work. It’s funny because we ended up criticizing this in our paper (we don’t really criticize, we just say that more work needs to be done). In the end, we persisted, and this finally proved to be for the best.

Fig15

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

PG: It’s not really a surprise, but what I think interests me the most is the fact that Pissarrachampsa didn’t have osteoderms (bony scutes, that form a body armor in almost all crocs). This is the first safe report of a terrestrial crocodyliform without osteoderms, which we interpret as an “endpoint” of an evolutionary trend in the baurusuchid lineage  (since some of the close relatives of Pissarrachampsa had very few osteoderms). This is very cool  and certainly had some biomechanical implications in the locomotion of these animals.

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

PG: Hmm… Nothing really exciting but, for paleontologists working with crocs, the message we want to make clear is: let’s study (and publish) the postcranium of fossil crocs, folks!

Fig12

Skeletal reconstruction of Pissarrachampsa

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

PG: Well, now I need to focus on the research I’m doing for my PhD, which is not exactly related to this paper. But, regarding the scope of this paper, I think a next step would be to test the influence of postcranial anatomy in other phylogenetic hypotheses for crocodyliforms (we performed tests only in one hypothesis), maybe with the proposition of new characters based on this part of the skeleton.

PJ: If you had unlimited resources (money, lab equipment, trained personnel, participants, etc.), what study would you run?

PG: Haha, this is a good one. Look, I’m a paleontologist. My research won’t save the world, in the way that medical researchers can do. Of course I would like to discover things such as the cure for cancer, HIV, etc. But, keeping it in paleo, right now I’d really like to go for a field trip. So, with infinite resources, I’d plan a series of field works, all around the world, to look for interesting fossils. I know, it doesn’t sound very revolutionary, but that’s how basic research works.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

PG: I don’t really remember the first time I heard about PeerJ, but I do remember seeing some interesting papers coming out in it since 2014. I have confess that one of the first motivations to submit this work to PeerJ was that my university has a plan to cover the costs of staff that publish on it. But I also have to confess that I became a big fan. Many features contributed to this, such as the very fast reviewing process, the easy and clear submission system, the excellent communication between the journal staff and the authors, the open access philosophy, the possibility of making the review history public, etc.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about your overall experience with us?

PG: It was excellent! All the deadlines were met and the overall experience was very painless.

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

PG: As I wrote above, “painless” would describe very precisely, which is something great, considering similar processes in other journals.

PJ: Did you get any comments from your colleagues about your publication with PeerJ?

Yes. A friend asked how my experience was with the journal. I also got some very kind comments about the paper itself.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

PG: Sure! For both questions (I’ve already recommended, by the way)

 

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