Tetrapod Zoology

A meeting with Dr Joy Reidenberg

You know me, I’m not one to brag. But…

One of several interesting things I did over the weekend was attend a special cinema screening (in Clapham, London) of the giant squid special episode of Inside Nature’s Giants. It was great, and the showing was followed by a Q&A session with David Dugan (ING writer/producer), presenter Mark Evans, and anatomist Joy Reidenberg. It was great to meet and chat with Joy – here’s photographic proof. I gave her a copy of Tetrapod Zoology Book One*.

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* Or… should that be Tetrapood Zoology Book One? The publishers are aware of the mistake and will be re-issuing the book. So, if you own a first impression, it’s soon to become a valuable collector’s item.

There’s loads of good news on ING to come, none of which I can share! But I will say that DVD releases are planned. One of many things covered in the Q&A session concerned the phenomenal amount of planning involved in the giant squid episode (and some of the others): hats off to Tom Mustill and all the others for their behind-the-scenes work on what is definitely one of the most remarkable television events in history. Also interesting are the differences between the British screening and American one: in the USA, the series is called Raw Anatomy. It lacks the Richard Dawkins bits, and (so I understand, please correct if I misunderstood) doesn’t feature any of the stuff on ecology and behaviour, nor the introductory segments featuring Mark Evans. You poor, poor Americans.

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Thanks to Joy and everyone else involved for making the evening what it was. Among other things, we spoke about camel necks, turtle growth rates, pharyngeal pouches, data sets and big phylogenies, and the ‘Milinkovitch et al. hypothesis’ of cetacean phylogeny (where sperm whales are closer to mysticetes than to other odontocetes [shown here, from Milinkovitch (1995)]: if you want to check it out, see Milinkovitch (1995) and Milinkovitch et al. (1993, 1995). The hypothesis is definitely not parsimonious). Rose-Heather Mik of The Armchair Zoologist and John Conway of pterosaur.net and Ontograph Studios were also there. John and I drank some really weird drinks.

By the way, we’re not done yet on Caperea. My focus on skeletal anatomy has caused me to neglect some other very interesting things about the animal; I’ll get to them in time.

For articles on ING and mentioning Joy and her work, see…

Refs – –

Milinkovitch, M. C. 1995. Molecular phylogeny of cetaceans prompts revision of morphological transformations. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 10, 328-334.

– ., Ortí, G. & Meyer, A. 1993. Revised phylogeny of whales suggested by mitochondrial ribosomal DNA sequences. Nature 361, 346-348.

– ., Ortí, G. & Meyer, A. 1995. Novel phylogeny of whales revisited but not revised. Molecular and Biological Evolution 12, 518-520.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian Switek
    October 25, 2010

    Good to hear that the series will be available on DVD, though I’m not thrilled that the US version is going to be stripped down. Is there just seem need for US publishers/TV channels/distributors/etc. to mess with UK products for no discernible reason? Ugh. Glad my DVD player can read Region 2…

  2. #2 Allen Hazen
    October 25, 2010

    To bad the Milinkovitch hypothesis hasn’t stood up. It’s one of a bunch of intriguing hypotheses about mammalian phylogeny (like bats are diphyletic, guinea pigs are primates, rabbits are closer to artiodactyls than to rodents) which all appealed to me when I first learned of them: all challenged traditional classifications which (in my ignorance) I thought had been made purely on the basis of superficial resemblance. And I ***wanted*** there to be some surprising reclassification!

    Hmm. My other three examples all postulated convergent evolution of characters (flight, a rodenty suite of traits, a smaller rodenty suite) which make functional sense and so, a priori, seemed like good candidates for convergent evolution. Milinkovitch’s is (at a very superficial level) even better: it just says that the toothy/toothless dichotomy doesn’t mark out two clades. We know that early Mysticetes (which, in this context, can be defined as whales more closely related to baleen whales than to the Delphinus or Phocaena, and which can be diagnosed by a pattern of skull “telescoping”) had teeth, so why COULDN’T some toothed group be closer to them than to “core Odontocetes”?

    Come to think of it… Should I feel somehow CHEATED that there are no surviving stem-Mysticetes and that the Mysticete clade is represented only by Baleen whales?

  3. #3 Nathan Myers
    October 25, 2010

    My kids and I were thrilled to find that the Big Cats episode finally showed up on Youtube. Now we are thrilled that the Giant Squid episode is up. It’s downloading now.

  4. #4 Kattato Garu
    October 26, 2010

    Are the Americans dropping Dawkins because he’s a militant atheist… or because his segments are so dull? I remember being shocked that such an interesting writer could give such snooze-worthy lectures, which he reads in a monotone from his notes. Legend has it that several lectures into his interminable series at Oxford, an undergrad interrupted him in the middle of a sentence to ask him “which page of your book are we on now?”.
    Did the good Dr Joy still smell vaguely of whale hyoid? That was one of the most surreal TV sequences I’ve ever seen.

  5. #5 Darren Naish
    October 26, 2010

    I can assure you that everything about the good Dr Reidenberg is thoroughly pleasant.

  6. #6 Andreas Johansson
    October 26, 2010

    Darren wrote:

    I can assure you that everything about the good Dr Reidenberg is thoroughly pleasant.

    That doesn’t tell us anything unless you also tell us whether you like the smell of whale hyoid. ;)

  7. #7 David Marjanović
    October 26, 2010

    guinea pigs are primates, rabbits are closer to artiodactyls than to rodents

    That should have been called “guinea pigs are rodents, rabbits are close to rodents, rats & mice are not rodents but are instead the sister-group (or even two successive outgroups!) to all other placentals”.

    The consensus these days is that it’s long-branch attraction.

  8. #8 John Harshman
    October 26, 2010

    No, I think Allen was referring to Graur, D., W. A. Hide, and W.-H. Li. 1991. Is the guinea-pig a rodent? Nature 351:649-652, in which the answer to the title question is “no”. And of course it’s long-branch attraction. That was handled nicely by Sullivan, J., and D. L. Swofford. 1997. Are guinea pigs rodents? The importance of adequate models in molecular phylogenetics. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 4:77-86.

  9. #9 Allen Hazen
    October 26, 2010

    John Harshman (#8)– Thank you! I couldn’t have given a reference, but I encountered the hypothesis at roughly that time, and skim “Nature” regularly, so that’s probably what I saw. The rabbits-as-closely-related-to-artiodactyls hypothesis is older– I think I read about it in the 1960s, probably in a book that wasn’t new at the time. As I recall, the evidence was immunological.
    … As I said, they were FUN hypotheses to think about. The potential problem of long branch attraction probably COULD have been figured out a priori (probability theory is an old and mature branch of mathematics: it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that what we call “long branch attraction” was identified in some paper from the 1940s that never mentioned possible applications in phylogenetics(*)), but probably WOULDN’T have been until a certain amount of experience had accumulated in molecular phylogenetics: so it’s not surprising that a bunch of the dramatic, FUN, findings announced a couple of decades ago turn out to l.b.a. artifacts.

    (*) I suppose the number of “generations” of manuscript recopyings in the Christian era hasn’t been enough for “long branch attraction” to be a problem for Biblical scholars trying to trace manuscript traditions! But the existence of such a non-biological analogue of cladistics might have inspired some mathematician to work on the theory. And mathematicians love generality: the theory of manuscripts that get copied an unlimited number of times is just the sort of thing I can imagine a probability theorist working on.

  10. #10 Dartian
    October 27, 2010

    Allen:

    I ***wanted*** there to be some surprising reclassification!

    We still have Afrotheria, Cetartiodactyla, and the non-monophyly of badgers, mangabeys and tree sloths.

    Kattato:

    I remember being shocked that such an interesting writer could give such snooze-worthy lectures, which he reads in a monotone from his notes.

    Great literary skills and great oratory skills are qualities that rarely go together.

  11. #11 Boesse
    October 27, 2010

    Oh god, the Milinkovitch hypothesis. I had almost forgotten about that one: I might have to do a blog post specifically on it. IIRC, it more or less boiled down to a sampling error, and the few number of taxa included in the analysis.

    The hilarious thing is how badly Milinkovitch (1995) butchered the cetacean fossil record and cetacean anatomy. Actually it’s quite tragic that parts of that paper got published – it really does deserve a nice discussion. There’s a lot of fuzzy logic in that paper, along with a lot of uninformed speculation on morphological evolution in cetaceans, and serves as a fantastic example of why geneticists should have anatomists or paleontologists as coauthors (at least if you’re going to revise the entire morphological evolution of a given group). There’s also a lot of complaining in that paper about the inadequacy of the cetacean fossil record, which was pure and utter tripe.

  12. #12 MJ Simpson
    October 27, 2010

    I’m sure I’m note the only person here who really, really likes the idea the idea that guinea pigs could be primates!

  13. #13 David Marjanović
    October 27, 2010

    I think Allen was referring to Graur, D., W. A. Hide, and W.-H. Li. 1991. Is the guinea-pig a rodent? Nature 351:649-652, in which the answer to the title question is “no”.

    That’s what I mean. The confusion is due to the tiny taxon sample in that matrix. (Hey — 1991.) The only rodents in it are guinea pigs, rats, and/or mice. Later analyses found rats and mice at the base of the placental tree and all other rodents clustered together in the usual place.

    Interesting that Dan “entrails of chickens” Graur is an author of that paper.

    Rule of thumb: all molecular phylogenetics published before 2001 is forgettable and should be of historical interest only.

  14. #14 kari schram
    October 27, 2010

    HI Darren Naish
    Wanted to contact you and tell you about what is happening in Iceland beside volcano´s
    There is a new venue for sea monsters enthusiasts in the world and it is in Iceland.
    Hi my name is Kári Schram and I am the founder of the latest contribution to Cryptozoology at least we think so.

    We opend the doors to the public in June this year to the
    SEA MONSTER MUSEUM in Bíldudalur located on the west cost of Iceland.
    There we have collected – show and tell the history of sea monster of Iceland which have been documented thro our history.
    I wanted to introduce the Museum to you in the hope to contact all the aspiring followers of Cryptozoology. To let them know there is a new location on the map that will hopefully contribute somewhat to this field.
    We are looking for a way to further introduce our efforts in this field to other enthusiasts around the world. I saw that there is annually held a European Symposium of Cryptozoology. This sounded to be a good place to spread our information and meet other enthusiasts from around the world for we are pleased with our effort in getting this museum opened to the public. And who knows maybe we can have a symposium her one day.

    I will not have this any longer now not knowing if this will reach you.
    But if so pleas don’t hesitate to contact me for further information and I would realy like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    Respectfully
    Kári G Schram
    icedoc@isl.is
    tel: 345 – 8221931

  15. #15 John Harshman
    October 27, 2010

    That’s what I mean. The confusion is due to the tiny taxon sample in that matrix.

    N=4, in fact.

    Later analyses found rats and mice at the base of the placental tree and all other rodents clustered together in the usual place.

    Interesting. Citation?

    Rule of thumb: all molecular phylogenetics published before 2001 is forgettable and should be of historical interest only.

    Just not true. Consider, for example, the Wilson lab’s discovery of the fact and fairly recent date of the chimp/human split. And Sibley & Ahlquist’s work, despite copious methodological problems, still involved a number of discoveries, revolutionary at the time, that have been amply confirmed since. And the best published phylogeny of anseriforms is from 1988. I could go on. Sure, things are much better now since large-scale sequencing of nuclear loci has ramped up. But older pubs are not useless.

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