PeerJ Award Winners: 4th Palaeontological Virtual Congress

by | Jul 4, 2023 | Award Winner Interviews, Awards, Community, Societies

The Palaeontological Virtual Congress (PVC) is a pioneering conference in the field of paleontology, conducted exclusively in a virtual format. The congress aims to disseminate the latest scientific advancements in paleontology worldwide, in a fast, accessible, and economical manner. In its fourth edition, it brought together 723 scientists from 55 different countries and featured a total of 340 presentations, setting an absolute record in terms of participants and contributions. The virtual nature of the conference allows for overcoming barriers and fostering global collaboration in the field of paleontology. The significance of the congress has continued to increase, and this has been facilitated by organizations such as PeerJ, which acknowledge the efforts of scientists and offer their support.

The Organizing Committee of the 4th PVC. 


Petra Lukeneder PhD Candidate at the University of Vienna, Austria. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a palaeontologist with strong interests in fossil and extant coleoid cephalopods, their evolution, adaptions, as well as the fossilisation processes in Konservat-Lagerstätten with their exceptionally preserved fossils.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I was captivated by these enigmatic, carbonised fossils, which we only knew from two palaeontological localities worldwide. My aim was to clarify the taxonomical affiliation of these fossils. The first results (especially the Micro-CT pictures) indicated that these specimens are the remains of mineralised cephalic cartilages of a basal group of coleoid cephalopods. The presence of these reticulate cartilages also includes ecological implications, such as the water depths, in which these animals may have lived, their buoyancy control, their locomotion and even their fossilisation potential itself.

You won the Best Poster Presentation award at PaleoVC 2023, can you briefly explain the research you presented?

The research I presented at the Palaeo VC included a brief overview on the fossil fauna preserved in the deposits of the Polzberg Konservat-Lagerstätte in Lower Austria, with a strong focus on the coleoids. The newly discovered specimens, some of them with semi in-situ arm crowns, beaks and cephalic cartilages contribute to the scarce coleoid fossil record. Micro-CT reconstructions of the carbonised cephalic cartilages revealed a widely branched channel network in the interior of the fossils. Of course also the question arose, whether all these (hundreds of) coleoid fossils really belong to only one taxon. The taxonomical aspects are another focus of my research.

How will you continue to build on this research?

There are some promising approaches on how this extraordinary 3D preservation of the coleoid cartilages came about. At the moment, I am working on the quantification of the cartilage channel network – for a better understanding of the origin, morphogenesis and taphonomy of these fossils. Additionally, taphonomical experiments will help to learn about the decay – or the preservation – of these tissues.


Anthony Romilio Principal Research Officer at the University of Queensland, Australia. 

Anthony Romilio at Lark Quarry tracksite (credit: Maria Mackenzie)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I grew up in the beautiful hinterland of Byron Bay, specifically in the farming village of Dunoon. Living and working in that environment fostered my deep fascination with the natural world, especially animals. It was during my studies in zoology that I realized my passion extended beyond living creatures to include their extinct counterparts.

Although it took me several decades to return to university for my PhD in vertebrate palaeontology, my dedication never wavered. Despite not having a formal post-doctoral position or employment as a researcher, I am driven by my personal curiosity and undertake research projects in my spare time. My focus has predominantly been on dinosaur tracksite research and evolutionary biology.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to lead a publication in PeerJ, examining advanced 3D data acquisition and modelling methods for massive dinosaur tracksites in Broome, Western Australia. Since then, I have published 60 articles, with five of these focusing on innovative methodologies to enhance dinosaur track research.

What first interested you in this field of research?

My fascination with dinosaur tracks began during my PhD project, where I had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Steve Salisbury. Initially, our goal was to study fossil dinosaur trackways and use them to understand the limb biomechanics of the trackmakers.

We focused our research on the famous Lark Quarry tracksite in Queensland. This site had gained attention because it was initially thought to provide evidence of a dinosaur stampede—a thrilling idea that caught the interest of a documentary crew collaborating with us. However, as I delved deeper into my investigation, I became convinced that the Lark Quarry tracksite did not support the notion of a single mass running or a dinosaur stampede.

You won the Best Video Presentation award at PaleoVC 2023, can you briefly explain the research you presented?

The research I presented at the Palaeo VC conference combines my passion for studying dinosaur tracks using advanced 3D technology and visually representing the creatures that made those tracks. Over the past two years, I’ve been exploring the capabilities of 3D modelling and animation software called Blender, which I found surprisingly user-friendly. This software has become an integral part of my research projects, allowing me to create lifelike representations of dinosaur trackmakers and use augmented reality to share my findings with the public and engage in community outreach initiatives.

During my presentation, I showcased the fascinating Lark Quarry Conservation Park, which is known for its rich dinosaur track record. Using aerial drone photos, I generated 3D models of the park’s landscape and seamlessly navigated through the virtual space. This helped me highlight the areas where dinosaur tracks are found across different parts of the landscape. I also presented the first complete map of the Lark Quarry tracksite, which was created using a technique called photogrammetry. This map provides valuable information about the location of trackways and estimates of the size of the trackmakers.

Lark Quarry Conservation Park (Credit: A. Romilio)

Intriguingly, my presentation also revealed the discovery of small-bodied dinosaur footprints that challenge the traditional ‘stampede’ interpretation. Among these footprints are the iconic Charachichnos swim traces, as well as footprints oriented in directions contrary to what we would expect in a stampeding scenario. These findings add a new layer of complexity to our understanding of dinosaur behaviour and how tracks can help us unravel their ancient stories.

What are your next steps?

My next steps in research aim to further our understanding of the behaviours of extinct animals, such as dinosaurs, which captivate the curiosity of the general public, just as they do mine. Fossilized dinosaur trackways provide invaluable insights into their movement patterns, as footprints can only be made when these animals were alive.

In the coming months, I have a publication that will be released, focusing on innovative ways to evaluate the variations in movement within an individual dinosaur’s trackway. This research allows us to uncover subtle nuances in their movements as they made their footprints. By studying these variations, we can gain a deeper understanding of how dinosaurs walked or ran, shedding light on their unique behaviours.

Another exciting aspect of my future research involves creating 3D reconstructions of dinosaurs in motion, animated according to their trackways. This approach will provide a vivid depiction of how dinosaurs may have looked and moved, offering insights into their social behaviours and even rapid locomotion.

By building upon these methods and applying them to new tracksite discoveries, I hope to uncover further evidence of social interactions among dinosaurs and gain a better understanding of their dynamic movements. These endeavours will contribute to a richer and more detailed picture of the behaviours of these magnificent ancient creatures.


Future Directions (Credit: A. Romilio)

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