On the trail of the diverse palaeontological community

The 2019 Palaeontological Association (PalAss) Annual Meeting was held in Valencia, Spain, on the 15th – 21st December

Go to the profile of Abel Barral
Feb 06, 2020
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The road took me this time to my home country, to meet my home scientific community in one of the annual highlights in the calendar of every palaeontologist: the PalAss Annual Meeting. This 63rd edition of the conference was a wonderful forum to catch up with so many old friends and to make new contacts, while getting a quick but comprehensive view of recent developments across the breadth of palaeontology and the needs of its diverse community. All this in the setting of the peaceful University of Valencia campus, and the idyllic Albufera Natural Park where the organization team delighted us with a traditional paella-based gala dinner right next to the beautiful wetland system – if there is a place in the world to taste the true paella, this is it!

The meeting offered attendees a complete programme of workshops, pre- and post-conference trips, plus a symposium and two days of regular conference activities. The workshops and symposium hinged on tools and methods in “Virtual Palaeontology”, including simulation and digitization techniques, finite element and multibody dynamic analysis, computational fluid dynamics, morphometrics, anatomical network analysis and graphic design. The main conference was organized in two parallel sessions during the mornings and plenary sessions during the afternoons, plus posters sessions. As is traditional in PalAss meetings, most of talks focused on the latest advances in Mesozoic and Paleozoic faunas, with particular emphasis on vertebrate palaeontology and evolution, origin and extinction questions. A wider diversity of topics was covered by ca. 200 interesting posters that could be explored during the breaks and a specific poster session. Sadly for my inner plant scientist, palaeobotany was rather underrepresented compared to other areas in palaeontology. Worthy of particular mention is the fantastic Annual Address by Maria McNamara about our knowledge of fossil melanosomes through the lens of taphonomy.

One of the most encouraging insights of the meeting was that there is rising awareness among palaeontologists, and space for discussion within events, about diversity in the palaeontological community. The conference included two posters discussing diversity and a specific ‘Diversity in Palaeontology’ meet-up session (albeit during lunchtime, which wasn’t ideal). These facilitated discussion on important questions such as the representation of women in the academic institutional hierarchy, the need for basic considerations such as including suitable fields in registration forms (e.g. preferred name, pronouns) and information about trans-friendly medical services when organizing events, and to enable remote participation in conferences for researchers who cannot attend for a wide number of reasons. It was great news to see so many meeting attendees supporting these initiatives. Let’s hope that this will only increase at forthcoming meetings.

All in all, many aspects made the 2019 edition of the PalAss Annual Meeting a complete success, and I am looking forward to seeing what the next one, held at the end of 2020 in Manchester, UK, will bring!

Go to the profile of Abel Barral

Abel Barral

Associate Editor, Nature Ecology & Evolution

Abel joined the company early in 2019 as a locum Associate Editor at Nature Plants, where he handled and commissioned articles in the fields of plant ecology, ecophysiology and evolution. He joined the editorial team of Nature Ecology & Evolution in June 2019. Prior to his doctoral studies, Abel obtained degrees in ‘Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity’ and ‘Ecology’ from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and acquired extensive expertise in palaeobotany and palaeocology through his collaboration with international research teams in various palaeontological research projects. He completed his PhD at the Université Lyon 1 and postdoctoral experience at the CNRS, focusing on the feedbacks between plant ecophysiology, biogeochemical cycles and climate during key time intervals of the Earth’s history.

2 Comments

Go to the profile of Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson 2 months ago

Sounds like a great meeting! I was at a recent Keystone meeting on human genomics where the excellent diversity and inclusion session was also during the lunch/skiing break. It's great that this issue is being discussed, but it should be part of the main programme! 

Go to the profile of Abel Barral
Abel Barral about 2 months ago

Completely agreed! The success of the diversity session in this meeting is good proof of the need of placing them in a more suitable time slot. I hope the organisers of the next edition of the meeting have noted that down... And happy to hear that this is happening in conferences across different scientific areas!