Wednesday, January 24, 2018

URSP Student Franco Villegas-Garin Finds Paleoenvironmental Relationships within Paravialians and Pterosaurs

Prehistoric bird studies have always interested me since my first semester as an undergrad, due to the evolutionary origin of birds from dinosaurs is a discovery only known for a few decades. My project, under the mentorship of Dr. Mark Uhen, sought to find paleoenvironmental relationships within Paravialians and Pterosaurs. Paravialians are a group of theropod (two-legged) dinosaurs that include ancestral/early birds that lived on earth about ~161 million years ago to ~66 million years ago and feathered dinosaurs that were closely related, but not quite birds. Pterosaurs on the other hand were not dinosaurs, but they were flying reptiles.
My research helped me develop scientific skills at every level, including but not limited to gathering information, data analysis/synthesis, and technical writing, which are all necessary for grad school. My paleontological knowledge greatly increased as I got to test my limits and apply what I knew and beyond, not to mention that grad schools do see undergraduate funded research as a huge plus.
On a weekly basis, I searched for peer-reviewed publications that gave me necessary data to input into the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). I collected femur lengths for paravialians and wingspan lengths for the pterosaurs analyzed. From there, I exposed them to multiple mathematical models in order to generate their estimated body masses. Eventually, I extrapolated the environmental settings for all of the fossil occurrences considered.
Studies regarding the environmental distribution of organism might give not only give us insight into the relationships between extinct creatures, but also extant ones. Human intervention could affect the environmental distribution of organisms (such as birds) and we might encounter that because of this, these organisms end up exposed to unpredicted competitors, which could potentially affect the survival chances of multiple animal groups. As a closing statement, I am very thankful for OSCAR allowing me to be part of the URSP and I highly recommend you to take part of the program if the opportunity arises.