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David Dilkes and Joseph Peterson

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Dr. David Dilkes and Dr. Joseph Peterson presented their prehistorical research, "More Than Just Bones: Interpreting Function and Behavior in Fossil Vertebrates" at the Dean's Symposium on Sept. 21, 2012.
David Dilkes and Joseph Peterson

Dr. Joseph Peterson (left) and Dr. David Dilkes (right)

Looking at Bones

When Dr. David Dilkes and Dr. Joseph Peterson talk about bones, they are painting vivid pictures of a prehistoric world where dinosaurs roam.

In a fall Dean's Symposium, Dilkes, Department of Biology, and Peterson, Department of Geology, shared their research in a talk titled: "More Than Just Bones: Interpreting Function and Behavior in Fossil Vertebrates."

In his introduction of the two presenters, John Koker, Dean of the College of Letters and Science, said the following:

“Try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period. You get your first look at this "six foot turkey" as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement like T-Rex – he'll lose you if you don't move. But no, not Velociraptor. You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two raptors you didn't even know were there. Because Velociraptor's a pack hunter, you see, he uses coordinated attack patterns and he is out in force today. And he slashes at you with this – a six-inch retractable claw, like a razor, on the middle toe. He doesn't bother to bite your jugular like a lion, oh no … he slashes at you here or here … or maybe across the belly, spilling your intestines. The point is … you are alive when they start to eat you. So you know … try to show a little respect.”

This quote from the classic film, Jurassic Park, explains our fascination with these extinct animals.  Their interesting behaviors (real or imagined!) and their incredible anatomic structure do not just serve as entertainment for our first Dean’s Symposium presenters of the year.  Dr. David Dilkes and Dr. Joseph Peterson have built strong scientific careers around the study of prehistoric life. 

Dr. David Dilkes Presenting
Dr. Dilkes shares his research on prehistoric amphibians and reptiles.

Dr. Dilkes earned his PhD from the University of Toronto at Mississauga in Vertebrate Paleontology, a field of study that combines comparative anatomy, biomechanics, sedimentology, ecology, and evolutionary taxonomy.  He began his tenure at UW Oshkosh in 2003 in the Department of Biology & Microbiology, where he teaches courses in Human and Comparative Anatomy.  His research takes him to locations throughout North America and to Argentina and South Africa.  His interests include anatomical differences between extremely different amphibians and reptiles from distinct time periods, evolutionary relationships among vertebrates from separate pylogenetic branches, biomechanics, restoration of non-fossilized soft tissue, and the ecological roles of these extinct vertebrates.

Dr. Joseph Peterson Presenting
Dr. Joseph Peterson presents his research on horned dinosaurs.

Dr. Peterson earned his PhD in Geology from Northern Illinois University and began his faculty position at UW Oshkosh in 2011.  His teaching assignment includes Historical Geology, Paleontology, and Environmental Geology.  Dr. Peterson, like Dr. Dilkes, has a broad range of interests in the area of vertebrate paleontology, paleobiology, fossil lesions in archosaurs, geomicrobiology, and experimental taphonomy (the study of decaying organisms and how they become fossilized).  His most current project involves the study of injury and behavior in the horned dinosaurs.

Here is a description of their talk:

Hypotheses of function and behavior in extinct vertebrates can be formed from examination of how bones connect with each other and reconstruction of soft-tissue structures attaching to bones such as muscles and ligaments. Type and range of movements at these connection points will determine basic behaviors such as food capture, processing of food, manipulation of objects by the skull or limbs, and locomotion. These behaviors can, in turn, tell us about the ecology of extinct vertebrates. Dr. Dilkes has studied anatomy and function of bony plates associated with the vertebral column in early amphibians and how they affect locomotion on land. He has also studied the form of limb bones and their musculature in the plant eating duck-billed dinosaur Maiasaura to infer patterns of locomotion and how locomotion may change during growth. The study of injuries on ancient bones can also allow for inferences of behavior and physiology of extinct animals. Dr. Peterson has studied injuries in Cretaceous dinosaurs such as the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, the horned Triceratops, and the thick-headed Pachycephalosaurus to shed light on the lives and behaviors of dinosaurs.

 Audio Podcast

This audio podcast features Dr. Dilkes and Dr. Peterson's "More Than Just Bones: Interpreting Function and Behavior in Fossil Vertebrates."

The first presenter is Dr. Dilkes. To follow along with him, please click here to download the PowerPoint.
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