Author Interview: Spinosaur Britain – Multiple different species likely roamed Cretaceous Britain

by | Jun 2, 2023 | Author Interview

PeerJ talks to Dr. Neil Gostling about the recently published PeerJ Life & Environment article Isolated tooth reveals hidden spinosaurid dinosaur diversity in the British Wealden Supergroup (Lower Cretaceous).

Could you please introduce yourself?

I’m Neil Gostling, I’m a lecturer in Evolution and Paleobiology at the University of Southampton in the School of Biological Sciences. I work on lots of different questions related to evolution. At the moment, I’ve been working on and supervising a PhD project by Chris Barker, looking at Spinosaurus, a very interesting and sometimes controversial group of large fish-eating dinosaurs from around the world. But they have a particularly interesting distribution throughout Europe. The paper that we’ve just published expands on that research.

So in our latest paper, instead of going out and digging or waiting for someone to find something on the foreshore of the Isle of Wight, we spoke to colleagues at the Hastings Museum. Phil Hadiland came across a specimen of a spinosaur tooth. We were quite interested because it seemed to be among the oldest, if not the oldest, spinosaur material we have in Britain. Chris Barker spent a long time analyzing it, comparing its features to known spinosaur teeth. We then conducted several different analyses.

Chris performed discriminant function analysis, cluster analysis, and phylogenetic analysis. What’s really interesting and exciting about this is that the tooth doesn’t belong to any of the known groups or species of spinosaurs described so far. This suggests that there is an undescribed and hidden diversity of spinosaurs in Britain, and possibly in other parts of the world as well. So, we don’t necessarily have to be actively digging or searching in fossil beds to describe new specimens. We can actually revisit museums and, with the help of knowledgeable curators, reanalyze specimens that are 150 to 200 years old. This allows us to gain a better understanding of the ancient diversity of these long-extinct and fascinating groups.

What do you hope readers take away from this research?

I would like readers to understand that while we often think there is a large diversity of herbivores, there is also a much smaller but significant diversity among the carnivorous dinosaurs that prey on them. Over a span of tens of millions of years, we have discovered a vastly greater diversity of these peculiar, charismatic, and thrilling theropod dinosaurs than we anticipated. It is likely that we also have an equally strange and unexplored understanding of the herbivorous dinosaurs. However, the main point I want people to take away is the importance of museum collections and curators. Science relies not only on the work of academics and students but also on the knowledge and expertise of various individuals. Having dedicated curators who are familiar with their collections and are willing to collaborate enables us to obtain a much clearer picture of what transpired 125-130 million years ago.

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

It’s a journal that is readily accessible, and one of the reasons we were keen to publish in PeerJ is because it is not only a reputable journal but also offers open access to everyone. We now ensure that whatever we publish is available to all. A journal like PeerJ, with its ethos of providing universal access to knowledge, is something that holds great importance for us. Last night, I was talking to people at a “Pint of Science” event, and I mentioned that our paper will be released next week, and they will be able to access it, and examine the details, even though some parts may be technical or filled with numbers and scientific jargon. It will be there for them to read, and perhaps they might even reach out to ask questions. We can answer them. So, why is PeerJ important? It democratizes science and knowledge, and that’s truly significant to me.

Was there anything else you would like to add?

I believe it has been a fantastic piece of work that brought together museums and academics. Chris Barker has done an outstanding job, conducting excellent analyses. The entire process, from start to finish, has been really enjoyable. So, no, there isn’t much more to add beyond acknowledging that this work was carried out by Chris Barker, who has essentially described the diversity of British spinosaurs for his PhD. We have material that is currently the youngest known spinosaur material, and if this tooth isn’t the oldest spinosaur material, it is certainly among the oldest. So, we have covered the diversity in his project.



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