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A First Pass at Figures

July 5, 2011 13 comments

Even though our paper is intended for a technical audience, it is still important to ensure that a broad range of readers can access and understand the information contained within the text. For instance, not even a competent dinosaur paleontologist is necessarily familiar with all of the intricacies of ornithischian clade names like “Ankylopolexia” or “Neornithischia.” Thus, we want to provide a brief bit of background for readers of the paper.

One option, of course, is to write out brief definitions of various clades as they are introduced. This works okay in some cases – for instance, we definitely want to briefly explain what an ornithischian is – but to do this for every term can get a little unwieldy. An old adage states, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and this is just as true in scientific writing as it is in popular writing.

So, I suggest that Figure 1 for the paper include a simplified cladogram of the major clades discussed in the paper. A first pass at this is given below (click on the image to see at full resolution):

Figure 1. Phylogeny

Figure 1. Phylogeny of Ornithischia (from multiple recent sources), showing major clades discussed in the text. Outlines show representative members of each clade; names in bold indicate clades with quadrupedal taxa.

There are a few things I should mention. First, the content of the figure is nowhere near finalized. However, there were a few principles I wanted to adhere to:

  • Keep it simple. Because this is only an overview figure, I did not deem it practical to include all of the taxa that we discuss. Instead, I just chose the “important” ones that will appear over and over again.
  • Terminology. In a few cases, such as Neornithischia, including only major named clades oversimplifies things just a little too much. For instance, there are a bunch of important neornithischians (e.g., Agilisaurus and Othnielosaurus) that don’t fit comfortably within ornithopods or marginocephalians, and I want to find ways to include such taxa. Thus, I’ve created terms like “Early neornithischians”. I realize that this may imply that they are a clade in their own right, where instead they form a comb or polytomy, but perhaps this is a simplification that just has to be made. If anyone has a suggestion for a better way to title the groups, please let me know. For now, I prefer “early neornithischians” over “basal neornithischians” and the like. “Basal” implies a ranking that just isn’t there for cladograms, but maybe other folks think this is less of a deal than I do.
  • Notation of quadrupedal taxa. Because quadrupedalism vs. bipedalism is so important for the paper, I bolded relevant taxa as outlined in the caption. The icons (discussed next) provide an additional clue. If I recall correctly (Andrew McDonald is probably most up to speed on this of anyone who follows this blog), there are probably a few non-hadrosaurid ornithopods that should be inferred to be quadrupedal, too.
  • Icons. I consider it very important to include at least a small figure for each taxon, so that readers who are not familiar with all of the terms can picture each clade in their mind. The icons that are shown here (from Mike Keesey’s Phylopic) are of generally high quality, but should be considered only temporary. Ideally, I would like to generate new images to go with our figure, if only because there has been such a hubbub over the running dinosaur pose recently.
  • Orientation. I opted for portrait rather than landscape orientation for the figure, primarily because I thought it was a more efficient and readable format. Any thoughts?
  • Time calibration. One option for the figure would be to time-calibrate it, and show the duration and estimated time of origin for each clade. I feel this might make things just a little too complex (and crowd other parts of the figure), but am open to alternative interpretations. Thoughts?

At any rate, that’s what we’ve got for now. Please chime in in the comments!

Image Sources: All images are from Phylopic, and are licensed accordingly under a Creative Commons License. Individual credits are as follows: Oscar Alcober & Ricardo Martinez (http://phylopic.org/image/246), Scott Hartman (http://phylopic.org/image/25; http://phylopic.org/image/48; http://phylopic.org/image/43; http://phylopic.org/image/33), Loewen et al. (http://phylopic.org/image/142), FunkMonk (http://phylopic.org/image/128), Lukas Panzarin (http://phylopic.org/image/140), Remes et al. (http://phylopic.org/image/146); Ville-Veikko Sinkkonen (http://phylopic.org/image/261)

Categories: Figures, Progress Reports
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