UC Davis dinosaur expert will step in as keynote speaker at state conference

Ryosuke Motani, a UC Davis expert on the evolution of marine reptiles and other prehistoric dinosaur era creatures, will step in as the featured speaker on Saturday, April 19 as California State University, Stanislaus hosts a gathering of scientists called California Paleontology (or Cal Paleo) for the first time ever.

Motani is filling in for scheduled keynote speaker, renowned Canadian paleontologist and "Dinosaur Planet" TV show host Scott Sampson who had to cancel on Tuesday night after his mother suffered a stroke. The all-day program is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the new Hashem and Nora Naraghi Hall of Science, with Motani's keynote address opening the event in Room 101. The program is open and free to the general public. The Physics, Physical Sciences, Geology, and Biology Departments and the College of Natural Sciences are co-sponsoring the program along with the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs, University Advancement, and the University Paleo Club.

The research presentations will include talks and posters on dinosaurs, giant alligators from Texas, ancient birds from China, mammoths from the Central Valley of California, and other topics. CSU Stanislaus faculty members Dr. Julia Sankey and Dr. Terry Jones are organizing the event. They are also advisors to the University's new Paleo Club, which will help run the event.

Sankey has led paleontological expeditions in the Western United States, has participated in digs in Canada and Mongolia, and has made some significant dinosaur discoveries. Jones uses modern animals and the fossil record to reconstruct the biology of extinct groups, including dinosaurs and their relatives.

Motani, a Geology Department faculty member at UC Davis, conducts physics-based research that focuses on the shape development of marine reptiles, such as what made tunas, lamnid sharks, cetaceans, and ichthyosaurs all look similar in silhouette and what constraints were behind the long necks of long-necked prehistoric reptiles called plesiosaurs (elasmosaurs). He uses high-tech three-dimensional computer models to animate the ancient "sea dragons" who once dominated an area of water that is now California when dinosaurs roamed the land. The "sea dragons" originated from land ancestries, and only one of them -- the ichthyosaurs -- became fish-shaped like the dolphins that later evolved from land animals, Motani's research has revealed.