Dr. Bonnan and team report another new dinosaur from South Africa: Arcusaurus

Dr. Bonnan and colleagues reported on a new sauropodomorph dinosaur, Arcusaurus pereirabdalorum, in the newest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.  For more information, see the Jurassic Journeys blog.

Arcusaurus skull reconstruction.

Arcusaurus pereirabdalorum skull reconstruction, (c) Yates, Bonnan, Neveling, and Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2011. Scale bar = 50 mm.

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FMEA students present at Undergraduate Research Day

The FMEA lab made a strong showing at the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day at WIU Wednesday, April 20, 2011.  We had three poster presentations, one oral presentation, and the Distinguished Alumna this year was none other than Katie Reiss, a former FMEA lab member!


  • Christine Gardner – Limb Bone Scaling: Afrotherian Allometry
  • Mercedes Taylor – Differential Long Bone Growth in Eutherian Mammals
  • Shannon Worstell – From Forelimb to Flipper: Comparing Limb Proportion Development in Terrestrial to Aquatic Reptiles and Mammals

Oral Presentation:

  • Collin VanBuren – Quantifying the Posture of Quadrupedal Dinosaurs: A Morphometric Approach

We are proud of our students and their strong showing at this event.

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Former FMEA student goes 3D!

I am proud to say that a former graduate student and alumnus of the FMEA lab, Ashley Morhardt, is part of Team 3D Alligator.  What is Team 3D Alligator?  The Witmer and Holliday labs have teamed up to make available an amazing variety of three-dimensional models of adult and hatchling alligator skulls.  Some of the cool things to see are reconstructions of the brain and other internal organs of the skull. Alligators and the crocodylian kin form an important outgroup branch that we dinosaur paleontologists use to constrain and “root” our anatomical reconstructions and inferences of dinosaurs as living animals.  This resource will be an invaluable tool to paleontologists, biologists, instructors, and teachers from K-12 and beyond.

It was a logical next step for Ashley to be involved in such a project — her M.S. thesis focused on archosaur skulls and inferring soft tissues around the mouth in dinosaurs.

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WIU to the Ocean Blue

Hi there! My name is Katie Reiss (married name Bazan) and I was an honors undergraduate student in Dr. Bonnan’s lab. This is my story of how working in the FMEA lab. I met Dr. Bonnan when I took his embryology class fall semester of 2005. He was by far my favorite professor (even today). I could immediately tell that he had a drive for teaching and advising students. At the time I hadn’t chosen a project for my honors thesis and wasn’t really sure what to choose. I attended Western to become strong in the basics of biology, but I was odd because I loved sharks (not too many of those in Macomb, IL). I was interested in finding a project that had something to do with sharks. Dr. Bonnan came up with an idea about measuring shark tails and looking at the changes in their shape as the sharks grew. I never thought I would become so fascinated by shark tails, but I did.

That’s the great thing about Dr. Bonnan is that he knows how to tie what you are interested in with a doable project. He always said it doesn’t work if the student isn’t interested in the project. Becoming a student in Dr. Bonnan’s lab was the best thing that ever happened to me at Western. Spring semester of 2006 I took his comparative anatomy class. Once again I found myself loving a subject I never knew existed! The treasure hunts of trying to find muscles and struggling to skin the darn cat are what I remember most. The knowledge he shared about comparative anatomy seemed to come in handy everywhere I went.

During the summer of 2006, I was accepted into the Mote Marine lab’s REU program for the summer in Sarasota, Florida. One of the main reasons they chose me was because of my undergraduate honors thesis with Dr. Bonnan. Equipped with the knowledge I gained in Dr. Bonnan’s comparative anatomy class, I could open up sharks and know where all the organs were located. On one trip my friend and I saved four blacknose shark pups to preserve. I couldn’t take them with me, so she brought the sharks up to Michigan in a cooler. They remained in her freezer until I could retrieve them. That’s how Dr. Bonnan inspired me. I was always curious about everything and always asking questions. I gave him one of those blacknose pups and the other one is in my room.

My project allowed me to travel to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, IL and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C during the summer of 2006 as well. I was so excited to dive into my undergraduate thesis by going to measure and take pictures of spiny dogfish shark tails at the Smithsonian. I was there for a week and it was an amazing experience. I never thought I could say that I’ve helped dissect a hippo leg or seen the “bug room” where they put bones to be cleaned by beetles. I spent my days elbow deep in preservative fishing out sharks to measure from huge tanks at the museum. After that trip came the difficult part of every thesis…analyzing the data. My statistics skills were very lack luster (and are still rusty even now), but Dr. Bonnan was always patient and willing to help. Over the course of that year we worked on my thesis and made it into a publishable paper.

In the summer of 2007, I was able to present my very first platform presentation at the national meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) in St. Louis, MO. It was incredible to be that little fish in a huge ocean of scientists. Some friends from my summer program where there and we marveled at all the scientists we had read about. Amazingly, I did not spend all of my time in the “shark room”, but traveled from room to room listening to talks about anatomy, thin plate splines, and even parasitology. Dr. Bonnan had broadened my horizons to not just think about my organism, but to be interested in the science being applied. I gave my presentation on Friday the 13th with my family there for support. That presentation eventually turned into a publication in the Anatomical Record!

With Dr. Bonnan’s help I was accepted into a great marine biology graduate school at the College of Charleston. I’m working on finishing my master’s degree which involves working with live sharks. Although my work doesn’t have much to do with anatomy (except for when I try to locate the thyroid gland in sharks), everything I have learned from Dr. Bonnan has stayed with me. He will teach you the fundamentals of research science, so you can become the scientist you want to be. Some advisors are never there for their students or are often too wrapped up in their own research to care about their students. Dr. Bonnan is a world class scientist who cares about his students, which is a very rare combination. Even rarer is that he is humble and will always tell you what he does isn’t a big deal (even though it really is!). Many scientists in his position would have an attitude of “I’m the world’s best scientist and students are a waste of time” (believe me I’ve meet some). This is a person who spends his summers digging up dinosaur bones and comes back to Western to help students learn.

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Rescheduled dinosaur field course interest meeting

… or, “Blizzards never happened in the Jurassic period!”

Just a brief post for those interested in finding out more about this summer’s dinosaur field course about the final interest meeting which was scheduled for February 2 but was canceled due to a lack of navigable roads.

The final interest meeting will be held Monday, February 14, at 12 Noon in Waggoner Hall room 324.

I hope to see you there …

Dr. Bonnan

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Update on Hanksville-Burpee Utah dinosaur field course

dinosaur field course flyerJust a brief post from Dr. Bonnan to alert those students interested in the Hanksville-Burpee Utah dinosaur field course that there are upcoming interest meetings.  I encourage anyone interested to attend one of these meetings for more information on the dinosaur field course.


Tuesday, January 25, at 3PM
Thursday, January 27, at 3 PM
Wednesday, February 2, at 12 Noon

I made a mistake in the flyer — the room for the Tuesday and Thursday meetings will be in Waggoner 271, not in WG 324.  The Wednesday, February 2 meeting will still be held in WG 324.

I hope to see you there …

Dr. Bonnan

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The WIU FMEA Laboratory Announces the Beginning of its “Lemur Biodiversity Initiative”

Dr. Jess White, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Co-Director of the Functional Morphology and Evolutionary Anatomy Laboratory at Western Illinois University will spearhead a multi-year research initiative focusing on studying the biodiversity of living lemurs. This information will be used not only to understand the ecology of living lemurs on Madagascar, but to also investigate the environmental adaptations of their closest fossil relatives.

What is a lemur?

The easiest answer is to think about King Julian from the Madagascar movies and cartoons. Although the depictions of their behavior are somewhat inaccurate, that movie has done wonders for exposing Americans to lemurs!

Today, lemurs are a relatively small group of primates and live only on the island of Madagascar and its satellite islands. In the not-so-distant-past, large lemurs roamed Madagascar, some as large as small bears! These large lemurs, however, have gone extinct, largely due to hunting once populations of humans reached the islands. Currently, several species of lemurs are considered critically endangered, including species of Sifakas (Propithecus sp.), Black and White Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia sp.), and Bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur sp.). For those not familiar with the common or species names, many of you will be familiar with the name Zoboomafoo, a character on a popular PBS children’s show. Zoboomafoo is a sifaka! The natural habitat of lemurs has been dramatically reduced, primarily due to the spread of agriculture and ranching.

Not only is this is a crisis for the living animals, but primatologists ‘discover’ new species of lemurs quite often. This means that each day, there is the distinct possibility that we will lose a species that we never knew existed! We don’t think about lemurs very often, however, because they don’t have the ‘sexiness,’ of gorillas or chimpanzees. Most people look at a lemur and think it is probably a striped cat or a raccoon, not a member of our own family tree.

Information collected about the skeleton and anatomy of the lemurs are put into context by pairing it with behavioral data gathered through observation of animals in captivity and the wild. Dr. White is particularly interested in taking what she and her students can learn about living lemurs and using it to compare with the remains of lemur-like primates, called adapiforms, which once leapt through the forests of North America, Europe, and Asia. She, along with Dr. Sebastien Couette, a paleontologist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris, France, are two of only a handful of researchers now working on these 35-million year old primates.

Along with Dr. White, the Functional Morphology and Evolutionary Anatomy laboratory is co-directed by Dr. Matthew Bonnan, Associate Professor of Biology. The FMEA laboratory is also staffed by graduate and undergraduate students in anthropology and biology. Students work independently on research projects, and their data will eventually be combined into one dataset. While some projects are dissection-based ones mapping muscles and documenting anatomical structures, others are based on a technique called “clearing and staining.” This involves taking embryonic vertebrate material and soaking it in a variety of solutions until the bones are stained and can be seen through the existing muscles and tissue. The FMEA laboratory works with a number of local and national partners to source this material, including local veterinarians and the Duke Lemur Center. One undergraduate anthropology student, Mercedes Taylor, recently received a College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Undergraduate Research Grant to support her analysis of embryonic pelvis development in lemurs.

Both Dr. Bonnan and Dr. White are animal lovers – which is why we can understand why some people may be shocked by what we do here in the lab. The way that we look at it is that we take an unfortunate event like the death of an animal and try to learn what we can from that individual. The anatomical sciences are just that – giving “voice” to organisms that are no longer with us! For example, just last month, Dr. White and her students visited the Field Museum in Chicago and were working with the remains of two lemurs – one that died in 1895 and one in 1896. Almost one hundred and fifteen years later, those animals are providing an educational opportunity for students and critical information to primatologists.

More information about the Functional Morphology and Evolutionary Anatomy laboratory and the undergraduate minor program can be found at www.wiu.edu/users/mfb100/FMEA.php. You can also follow the activities of the FMEA faculty and students on the FMEA blog at: wiufmea.wordpress.com.

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