Published on December 1st, 2020 | by Elsa Panciroli


Episode 118: South African Sauropodomorphs

Piecing together the early lives of dinosaurs is difficult due to a lack of fossils from juvenile and embryonic stages. In this episode, Elsa Panciroli talks to Dr Kimi Chappelle, a postdoctoral fellow at the Evolutionary Studies Institute, part of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chappelle specialises in sauropodomorphs – the precursors of the giant sauropod dinosaurs like Diplodocus. Her recent work is helping build a picture of their growth and development.

Chappelle is a champion of South African palaeontology and nominated as one of the Mail and Guardian’s top 200 young South Africans in Science and Technology. With her colleagues she has published a stunning new study of sauropodomorph embryos from a fossil nest site in South Africa. This new paper visualises and describes their tiny skulls using synchrotron scan data. These fossils provide new information on dinosaur developmental processes, and places South African fossils at the heart of our understanding of their early evolution. Chappelle also talks about the latest work she’s involved with in Zimbabwe, and future research into the growth patterns of the largest dinosaurs to have ever lived.

Some of the world’s oldest known dinosaur eggs and embryos. The clutch of Massospondylus carinatus eggs discovered in 1976 in Golden Gate Highland National Park, South Africa. Picture by Brett Eloff.
3D digital reconstruction of the Massospondylus carinatus dinosaur embryo skull. Picture by Dr Kimi Chapelle.
Watercolour painting of the Massospondylus carinatus embryos at 17% through the incubation period, 60% through the incubation period and 100% through the incubation period. Art by Mélanie Saratori.
Peering inside one of the Massospondylus carinatus embryos using synchrotron scans to look at the skull bones. Picture by Dr Kimi Chapelle.
Dr Kimi Chappelle takes part in regular field work in South Africa and Zimbabwe, focussing on Late Triassic and Early Jurassic fossil material. Picture by Pia Viglietti.
The sauropodomorph Plateosaurus is not as large as the sauropods which came later. Dr Kimi Chappelle’s work focuses on the evolution and development of sauropods from animals like these. Picture by Jonah Choiniere.
Fieldwork at Qhemegha, a new site being explored in South Africa near the border with Lesotho, is uncovering fresh material from Late Triassic and Early Jurassic taxa from many different groups. Dr Kimi Chappelle plays a key role on this international team. Left to right, Themba Jikajika, James Sginyane Rhalane, Roger Benson, Cebisa Mdekazi and Kimi Chapelle.
Reconstruction of the Jurassic of South Africa. By Maggie Newman

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