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16 Aug 2018 at 01:34
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Bibliography on: Feathered Dinosaurs


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RJR: Recommended Bibliography 16 Aug 2018 at 01:34 Created: 

Feathered Dinosaurs

"A feathered dinosaur is any species of dinosaur possessing feathers. For over 150 years, since scientific research began on dinosaurs in the early 1800s, dinosaurs were generally believed to be related to the reptile family; the word "dinosaur", coined in 1842 by paleontologist Richard Owen, comes from the Greek for "formidable lizard". This view began to shift during the so-called dinosaur renaissance in scientific research in the late 1960s, and by the mid-1990s significant evidence had emerged that dinosaurs are much more closely related to birds. In fact, birds are now believed to have descended directly from the theropod group of dinosaurs, and are thus classified as dinosaurs themselves, meaning that any modern bird can be considered a feathered dinosaur, since all modern birds possess feathers (with the exception of a few artificially selected chickens). Among extinct dinosaurs, feathers or feather-like integument have been discovered on dozens of genera via both direct and indirect fossil evidence. The vast majority of feather discoveries have been for coelurosaurian theropods. However, integument has also been discovered on at least three ornithischians, raising the likelihood that proto-feathers were also present in earlier dinosaurs." QUOTE FROM: Wikipedia

Created with PubMed® Query: (dinosaur OR dinosaurs) AND (feather OR feathers OR feathered OR plumage OR pigmentation OR pigment OR countershading) NOT pmcbook NOT ispreviousversion

Citations The Papers (from PubMed®)

RevDate: 2018-05-31

McNamara ME, Zhang F, Kearns SL, et al (2018)

Fossilized skin reveals coevolution with feathers and metabolism in feathered dinosaurs and early birds.

Nature communications, 9(1):2072 pii:10.1038/s41467-018-04443-x.

Feathers are remarkable evolutionary innovations that are associated with complex adaptations of the skin in modern birds. Fossilised feathers in non-avian dinosaurs and basal birds provide insights into feather evolution, but how associated integumentary adaptations evolved is unclear. Here we report the discovery of fossil skin, preserved with remarkable nanoscale fidelity, in three non-avian maniraptoran dinosaurs and a basal bird from the Cretaceous Jehol biota (China). The skin comprises patches of desquamating epidermal corneocytes that preserve a cytoskeletal array of helically coiled α-keratin tonofibrils. This structure confirms that basal birds and non-avian dinosaurs shed small epidermal flakes as in modern mammals and birds, but structural differences imply that these Cretaceous taxa had lower body heat production than modern birds. Feathered epidermis acquired many, but not all, anatomically modern attributes close to the base of the Maniraptora by the Middle Jurassic.

RevDate: 2018-04-03
CmpDate: 2018-04-03

Voeten DFAE, Cubo J, de Margerie E, et al (2018)

Wing bone geometry reveals active flight in Archaeopteryx.

Nature communications, 9(1):923 pii:10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8.

Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx's wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.

RevDate: 2018-02-02

Peñalver E, Arillo A, Delclòs X, et al (2018)

Publisher Correction: Ticks parasitised feathered dinosaurs as revealed by Cretaceous amber assemblages.

Nature communications, 9(1):472 pii:10.1038/s41467-018-02913-w.

The originally published version of this Article was updated shortly after publication to add the word 'Ticks' to the title, following its inadvertent removal during the production process. This has now been corrected in both the PDF and HTML versions of the Article.

RevDate: 2018-01-28

Kondo M, Sekine T, Miyakoshi T, et al (2018)

Flight feather development: its early specialization during embryogenesis.

Zoological letters, 4:2 pii:85.

Background: Flight feathers, a type of feather that is unique to extant/extinct birds and some non-avian dinosaurs, are the most evolutionally advanced type of feather. In general, feather types are formed in the second or later generation of feathers at the first and following molting, and the first molting begins at around two weeks post hatching in chicken. However, it has been stated in some previous reports that the first molting from the natal down feathers to the flight feathers is much earlier than that for other feather types, suggesting that flight feather formation starts as an embryonic event. The aim of this study was to determine the inception of flight feather morphogenesis and to identify embryological processes specific to flight feathers in contrast to those of down feathers.

Results: We found that the second generation of feather that shows a flight feather-type arrangement has already started developing by chick embryonic day 18, deep in the skin of the flight feather-forming region. This was confirmed by shh gene expression that shows barb pattern, and the expression pattern revealed that the second generation of feather development in the flight feather-forming region seems to start by embryonic day 14. The first stage at which we detected a specific morphology of the feather bud in the flight feather-forming region was embryonic day 11, when internal invagination of the feather bud starts, while the external morphology of the feather bud is radial down-type.

Conclusion: The morphogenesis for the flight feather, the most advanced type of feather, has been drastically modified from the beginning of feather morphogenesis, suggesting that early modification of the embryonic morphogenetic process may have played a crucial role in the morphological evolution of this key innovation. Co-optation of molecular cues for axial morphogenesis in limb skeletal development may be able to modify morphogenesis of the feather bud, giving rise to flight feather-specific morphogenesis of traits.

RevDate: 2018-03-21

Negro JJ, Finlayson C, I Galván (2018)

Melanins in Fossil Animals: Is It Possible to Infer Life History Traits from the Coloration of Extinct Species?.

International journal of molecular sciences, 19(2): pii:ijms19020230.

Paleo-colour scientists have recently made the transition from describing melanin-based colouration in fossil specimens to inferring life-history traits of the species involved. Two such cases correspond to counter-shaded dinosaurs: dark-coloured due to melanins dorsally, and light-coloured ventrally. We believe that colour reconstruction of fossils based on the shape of preserved microstructures-the majority of paleo-colour studies involve melanin granules-is not without risks. In addition, animals with contrasting dorso-ventral colouration may be under different selection pressures beyond the need for camouflage, including, for instance, visual communication or ultraviolet (UV) protection. Melanin production is costly, and animals may invest less in areas of the integument where pigments are less needed. In addition, melanocytes exposed to UV radiation produce more melanin than unexposed melanocytes. Pigment economization may thus explain the colour pattern of some counter-shaded animals, including extinct species. Even in well-studied extant species, their diversity of hues and patterns is far from being understood; inferring colours and their functions in species only known from one or few specimens from the fossil record should be exerted with special prudence.

RevDate: 2018-03-05
CmpDate: 2018-03-05

Hu D, Clarke JA, Eliason CM, et al (2018)

A bony-crested Jurassic dinosaur with evidence of iridescent plumage highlights complexity in early paravian evolution.

Nature communications, 9(1):217 pii:10.1038/s41467-017-02515-y.

The Jurassic Yanliao theropods have offered rare glimpses of the early paravian evolution and particularly of bird origins, but, with the exception of the bizarre scansoriopterygids, they have shown similar skeletal and integumentary morphologies. Here we report a distinctive new Yanliao theropod species bearing prominent lacrimal crests, bony ornaments previously known from more basal theropods. It shows longer arm and leg feathers than Anchiornis and tail feathers with asymmetrical vanes forming a tail surface area even larger than that in Archaeopteryx. Nanostructures, interpreted as melanosomes, are morphologically similar to organized, platelet-shaped organelles that produce bright iridescent colours in extant birds. The new species indicates the presence of bony ornaments, feather colour and flight-related features consistent with proposed rapid character evolution and significant diversity in signalling and locomotor strategies near bird origins.

RevDate: 2018-03-07

Prondvai E, Godefroit P, Adriaens D, et al (2018)

Intraskeletal histovariability, allometric growth patterns, and their functional implications in bird-like dinosaurs.

Scientific reports, 8(1):258 pii:10.1038/s41598-017-18218-9.

With their elongated forelimbs and variable aerial skills, paravian dinosaurs, a clade also comprising modern birds, are in the hotspot of vertebrate evolutionary research. Inferences on the early evolution of flight largely rely on bone and feather morphology, while osteohistological traits are usually studied to explore life-history characteristics. By sampling and comparing multiple homologous fore- and hind limb elements, we integrate for the first time qualitative and quantitative osteohistological approaches to get insight into the intraskeletal growth dynamics and their functional implications in five paravian dinosaur taxa, Anchiornis, Aurornis, Eosinopteryx, Serikornis, and Jeholornis. Our qualitative assessment implies a considerable diversity in allometric/isometric growth patterns among these paravians. Quantitative analyses show that neither taxa nor homologous elements have characteristic histology, and that ontogenetic stage, element size and the newly introduced relative element precocity only partially explain the diaphyseal histovariability. Still, Jeholornis, the only avialan studied here, is histologically distinct from all other specimens in the multivariate visualizations raising the hypothesis that its bone tissue characteristics may be related to its superior aerial capabilities compared to the non-avialan paravians. Our results warrant further research on the osteohistological correlates of flight and developmental strategies in birds and bird-like dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2018-01-31

Peñalver E, Arillo A, Delclòs X, et al (2017)

parasitised feathered dinosaurs as revealed by Cretaceous amber assemblages.

Nature communications, 8(1):1924 pii:10.1038/s41467-017-01550-z.

Ticks are currently among the most prevalent blood-feeding ectoparasites, but their feeding habits and hosts in deep time have long remained speculative. Here, we report direct and indirect evidence in 99 million-year-old Cretaceous amber showing that hard ticks and ticks of the extinct new family Deinocrotonidae fed on blood from feathered dinosaurs, non-avialan or avialan excluding crown-group birds. A †Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick is entangled in a pennaceous feather. Two deinocrotonids described as †Deinocroton draculi gen. et sp. nov. have specialised setae from dermestid beetle larvae (hastisetae) attached to their bodies, likely indicating cohabitation in a feathered dinosaur nest. A third conspecific specimen is blood-engorged, its anatomical features suggesting that deinocrotonids fed rapidly to engorgement and had multiple gonotrophic cycles. These findings provide insight into early tick evolution and ecology, and shed light on poorly known arthropod-vertebrate interactions and potential disease transmission during the Mesozoic.

RevDate: 2018-03-31

Wu P, Yan J, Lai YC, et al (2018)

Multiple Regulatory Modules Are Required for Scale-to-Feather Conversion.

Molecular biology and evolution, 35(2):417-430.

The origin of feathers is an important question in Evo-Devo studies, with the eventual evolution of vaned feathers which are aerodynamic, allowing feathered dinosaurs and early birds to fly and venture into new ecological niches. Studying how feathers and scales are developmentally specified provides insight into how a new organ may evolve. We identified feather-associated genes using genomic analyses. The candidate genes were tested by expressing them in chicken and alligator scale forming regions. Ectopic expression of these genes induced intermediate morphotypes between scales and feathers which revealed several major morphogenetic events along this path: Localized growth zone formation, follicle invagination, epithelial branching, feather keratin differentiation, and dermal papilla formation. In addition to molecules known to induce feathers on scales (retinoic acid, β-catenin), we identified novel scale-feather converters (Sox2, Zic1, Grem1, Spry2, Sox18) which induce one or more regulatory modules guiding these morphogenetic events. Some morphotypes resemble filamentous appendages found in feathered dinosaur fossils, whereas others exhibit characteristics of modern avian feathers. We propose these morpho-regulatory modules were used to diversify archosaur scales and to initiate feather evolution. The regulatory combination and hierarchical integration may have led to the formation of extant feather forms. Our study highlights the importance of integrating discoveries between developmental biology and paleontology.

RevDate: 2018-02-12

Smithwick FM, Nicholls R, Cuthill IC, et al (2017)

Countershading and Stripes in the Theropod Dinosaur Sinosauropteryx Reveal Heterogeneous Habitats in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota.

Current biology : CB, 27(21):3337-3343.e2.

Countershading is common across a variety of lineages and ecological time [1-4]. A dark dorsum and lighter ventrum helps to mask the three-dimensional shape of the body by reducing self-shadowing and decreasing conspicuousness, thus helping to avoid detection by predators and prey [1, 2, 4, 5]. The optimal countershading pattern is dictated by the lighting environment, which is in turn dependent upon habitat [1, 3, 5, 6]. With the discovery of fossil melanin [7, 8], it is possible to infer original color patterns from fossils, including countershading [3, 9, 10]. Applying these principles, we describe the pattern of countershading in the diminutive theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of Liaoning, China. From reconstructions based on exceptional fossils, the color pattern is compared to predicted optimal countershading transitions based on 3D reconstructions of the animal's abdomen, imaged in different lighting environments. Reconstructed patterns match well with those predicted for animals living in open habitats. Jehol is presumed to have been a predominantly closed forested environment [3, 11, 12], but our results indicate a more heterogeneous range of habitats. Sinosauropteryx is also shown to exhibit a "bandit mask," a common pattern in many living vertebrates, particularly birds, that serves multiple functions including camouflage [13-18]. Sinosauropteryx therefore shows multiple color pattern features likely related to the habitat in which it lived. Our results show how reconstructing the color of extinct animals can inform on their ecologies beyond what may be obvious from skeletal remains alone. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

RevDate: 2018-02-14
CmpDate: 2018-02-14

Pickrell J (2017)

Camouflage plumage patterns offer clue to dinosaur's habitat.

Nature, 551(7678):17.

RevDate: 2017-12-19
CmpDate: 2017-10-20

Liu D, Chiappe LM, Serrano F, et al (2017)

Flight aerodynamics in enantiornithines: Information from a new Chinese Early Cretaceous bird.

PloS one, 12(10):e0184637 pii:PONE-D-16-24938.

We describe an exquisitely preserved new avian fossil (BMNHC-PH-919) from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of eastern Inner Mongolia, China. Although morphologically similar to Cathayornithidae and other small-sized enantiornithines from China's Jehol Biota, many morphological features indicate that it represents a new species, here named Junornis houi. The new fossil displays most of its plumage including a pair of elongated, rachis-dominated tail feathers similarly present in a variety of other enantiornithines. BMNHC-PH-919 represents the first record of a Jehol enantiornithine from Inner Mongolia, thus extending the known distribution of these birds into the eastern portion of this region. Furthermore, its well-preserved skeleton and wing outline provide insight into the aerodynamic performance of enantiornithines, suggesting that these birds had evolved bounding flight-a flight mode common to passeriforms and other small living birds-as early as 125 million years ago.

RevDate: 2017-09-10

Wiemann J, Yang TR, Sander PN, et al (2017)

Dinosaur origin of egg color: oviraptors laid blue-green eggs.

PeerJ, 5:e3706 pii:3706.

Protoporphyrin (PP) and biliverdin (BV) give rise to the enormous diversity in avian egg coloration. Egg color serves several ecological purposes, including post-mating signaling and camouflage. Egg camouflage represents a major character of open-nesting birds which accomplish protection of their unhatched offspring against visually oriented predators by cryptic egg coloration. Cryptic coloration evolved to match the predominant shades of color found in the nesting environment. Such a selection pressure for the evolution of colored or cryptic eggs should be present in all open nesting birds and relatives. Many birds are open-nesting, but protect their eggs by continuous brooding, and thus exhibit no or minimal eggshell pigmentation. Their closest extant relatives, crocodiles, protect their eggs by burial and have unpigmented eggs. This phylogenetic pattern led to the assumption that colored eggs evolved within crown birds. The mosaic evolution of supposedly avian traits in non-avian theropod dinosaurs, however, such as the supposed evolution of partially open nesting behavior in oviraptorids, argues against this long-established theory. Using a double-checking liquid chromatography ESI-Q-TOF mass spectrometry routine, we traced the origin of colored eggs to their non-avian dinosaur ancestors by providing the first record of the avian eggshell pigments protoporphyrin and biliverdin in the eggshells of Late Cretaceous oviraptorid dinosaurs. The eggshell parataxon Macroolithus yaotunensis can be assigned to the oviraptor Heyuannia huangi based on exceptionally preserved, late developmental stage embryo remains. The analyzed eggshells are from three Late Cretaceous fluvial deposits ranging from eastern to southernmost China. Reevaluation of these taphonomic settings, and a consideration of patterns in the porosity of completely preserved eggs support an at least partially open nesting behavior for oviraptorosaurs. Such a nest arrangement corresponds with our reconstruction of blue-green eggs for oviraptors. According to the sexual signaling hypothesis, the reconstructed blue-green eggs support the origin of previously hypothesized avian paternal care in oviraptorid dinosaurs. Preserved dinosaur egg color not only pushes the current limits of the vertebrate molecular and associated soft tissue fossil record, but also provides a perspective on the potential application of this unexplored paleontological resource.

RevDate: 2017-10-16
CmpDate: 2017-10-16

Lefèvre U, Cau A, Cincotta A, et al (2017)

A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers.

Die Naturwissenschaften, 104(9-10):74 pii:10.1007/s00114-017-1496-y.

Genuine fossils with exquisitely preserved plumage from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous of northeastern China have recently revealed that bird-like theropod dinosaurs had long pennaceous feathers along their hindlimbs and may have used their four wings to glide or fly. Thus, it has been postulated that early bird flight might initially have involved four wings (Xu et al. Nature 421:335-340, 2003; Hu et al. Nature 461:640-643, 2009; Han et al. Nat Commun 5:4382, 2014). Here, we describe Serikornis sungei gen. et sp. nov., a new feathered theropod from the Tiaojishan Fm (Late Jurassic) of Liaoning Province, China. Its skeletal morphology suggests a ground-dwelling ecology with no flying adaptations. Our phylogenetic analysis places Serikornis, together with other Late Jurassic paravians from China, as a basal paravians, outside the Eumaniraptora clade. The tail of Serikornis is covered proximally by filaments and distally by slender rectrices. Thin symmetrical remiges lacking barbules are attached along its forelimbs and elongate hindlimb feathers extend up to its toes, suggesting that hindlimb remiges evolved in ground-dwelling maniraptorans before being co-opted to an arboreal lifestyle or flight.

RevDate: 2018-07-20
CmpDate: 2018-07-20

Brown CM, Henderson DM, Vinther J, et al (2017)

An Exceptionally Preserved Three-Dimensional Armored Dinosaur Reveals Insights into Coloration and Cretaceous Predator-Prey Dynamics.

Current biology : CB, 27(16):2514-2521.e3.

Predator-prey dynamics are an important evolutionary driver of escalating predation mode and efficiency, and commensurate responses of prey [1-3]. Among these strategies, camouflage is important for visual concealment, with countershading the most universally observed [4-6]. Extant terrestrial herbivores free of significant predation pressure, due to large size or isolation, do not exhibit countershading. Modern predator-prey dynamics may not be directly applicable to those of the Mesozoic due to the dominance of very large, visually oriented theropod dinosaurs [7]. Despite thyreophoran dinosaurs' possessing extensive dermal armor, some of the most extreme examples of anti-predator structures [8, 9], little direct evidence of predation on these and other dinosaur megaherbivores has been documented. Here we describe a new, exquisitely three-dimensionally preserved nodosaurid ankylosaur, Borealopelta markmitchelli gen. et sp. nov., from the Early Cretaceous of Alberta, which preserves integumentary structures as organic layers, including continuous fields of epidermal scales and intact horn sheaths capping the body armor. We identify melanin in the organic residues through mass spectroscopic analyses and observe lighter pigmentation of the large parascapular spines, consistent with display, and a pattern of countershading across the body. With an estimated body mass exceeding 1,300 kg, B. markmitchelli was much larger than modern terrestrial mammals that either are countershaded or experience significant predation pressure as adults. Presence of countershading suggests predation pressure strong enough to select for concealment in this megaherbivore despite possession of massive dorsal and lateral armor, illustrating a significant dichotomy between Mesozoic predator-prey dynamics and those of modern terrestrial systems.

RevDate: 2017-08-25

Dhouailly D, Godefroit P, Martin T, et al (2017)

Getting to the root of scales, feather and hair: As deep as odontodes?.

Experimental dermatology [Epub ahead of print].

While every jawed vertebrate, or its recent ancestor, possesses teeth, skin appendages are characteristic of the living clades: skin denticles (odontodes) in chondrichthyans, dermal scales in teleosts, ducted multicellular glands in amphibians, epidermal scales in squamates, feathers in birds and hair-gland complexes in mammals, all of them showing a dense periodic patterning. While the odontode origin of teleost scales is generally accepted, the origin of both feather and hair is still debated. They appear long before mammals and birds, at least in the Jurassic in mammaliaforms and in ornithodires (pterosaurs and dinosaurs), and are contemporary to scales of early squamates. Epidermal scales might have appeared several times in evolution, and basal amniotes could not have developed a scaled dry integument, as the function of hair follicle requires its association with glands. In areas such as amnion, cornea or plantar pads, the formation of feather and hair is prevented early in embryogenesis, but can be easily reverted by playing with the Wnt/BMP/Shh pathways, which both imply the plasticity and the default competence of ectoderm. Conserved ectodermal/mesenchymal signalling pathways lead to placode formation, while later the crosstalk differs, as well as the final performing tissue(s): both epidermis and dermis for teeth and odontodes, mostly dermis for teleosts scales and only epidermis for squamate scale, feather and hair. We therefore suggest that tooth, dermal scale, epidermal scale, feather and hair evolved in parallel from a shared placode/dermal cell unit, which was present in a common ancestor, an early vertebrate gnathostome with odontodes, ca. 420 million years ago.

RevDate: 2018-04-17
CmpDate: 2018-04-17

Kawabe S, Tsunekawa N, Kudo K, et al (2017)

Morphological variation in brain through domestication of fowl.

Journal of anatomy, 231(2):287-297.

Great variations in the size, shape, color, feather structure and behavior are observed among fowl breeds. Because many types of domestic fowls have been bred for various purposes, they are ideal to assess the relationship between brain morphology and avian biology. However, little is known about changes in brain shape that may have occurred during fowl domestication. We analyzed the brains of red jungle fowl and domestic fowl to clarify differences in the brain shape between these breeds, as well as the shape changes associated with size enlargement using three-dimensional geometric morphometrics. Principal component and multivariate regression analyses showed that ventrodorsal bending, anteroposterior elongation and width reduction were significantly correlated with brain size. According to the size-dependent analysis, the red jungle fowl brain has an intermediate shape between the brain of young broilers and that of large domestic fowl and adult broilers. After the size effect is removed, geometric morphometric analyses show that the brain of red jungle fowl is different from that of domestic fowl, with large round cerebral hemispheres. Significant correlations exist between the skull length and brain volume among fowl, while the brain volume relative to the skull length is distinctly larger in red jungle fowl compared with domestic fowl. The distinct brain shape and increased relative brain size of red jungle fowl may be driven by the presence of large, rounded cerebral hemispheres.

RevDate: 2017-07-14

Xu X, Currie P, Pittman M, et al (2017)

Mosaic evolution in an asymmetrically feathered troodontid dinosaur with transitional features.

Nature communications, 8:14972 pii:ncomms14972.

Asymmetrical feathers have been associated with flight capability but are also found in species that do not fly, and their appearance was a major event in feather evolution. Among non-avialan theropods, they are only known in microraptorine dromaeosaurids. Here we report a new troodontid, Jianianhualong tengi gen. et sp. nov., from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group of China, that has anatomical features that are transitional between long-armed basal troodontids and derived short-armed ones, shedding new light on troodontid character evolution. It indicates that troodontid feathering is similar to Archaeopteryx in having large arm and leg feathers as well as frond-like tail feathering, confirming that these feathering characteristics were widely present among basal paravians. Most significantly, the taxon has the earliest known asymmetrical troodontid feathers, suggesting that feather asymmetry was ancestral to Paraves. This taxon also displays a mosaic distribution of characters like Sinusonasus, another troodontid with transitional anatomical features.

RevDate: 2017-06-07
CmpDate: 2017-06-07

Padian K (2017)

Palaeontology: Dividing the dinosaurs.

Nature, 543(7646):494-495.

RevDate: 2017-03-21

Xing L, McKellar RC, Xu X, et al (2017)

Response to: Phylogenetic placement, developmental trajectories and evolutionary implications of a feathered dinosaur tail in Mid-Cretaceous amber.

Current biology : CB, 27(6):R216-R217.

In his correspondence, Markus Lambertz [1] raises some concerns about the phylogenetic placement and feather development of DIP-V-15103, the amber-entombed tail section that we recently reported [2] as fragmentary remains of a non-pygostylian coelurosaur (likely within the basal part of Coelurosauria). We here would like to respond to these concerns.

RevDate: 2017-03-21

Lambertz M (2017)

Phylogenetic placement, developmental trajectories and evolutionary implications of a feathered dinosaur tail in Mid-Cretaceous amber.

Current biology : CB, 27(6):R215-R216.

In a recent report in Current Biology, Xing and colleagues [1] present a small fragment of a vertebrate tail preserved in amber that bears integumentary appendages (DIP-V-15103, Dexu Institute of Paleontology, Chaozhou, China; Figure 1). Following several analyses using cutting-edge technology the authors conclude that: the tail belongs to a non-avian theropod dinosaur (non-avialan according to the authors, but non-avian used synonymously here); the dinosaur most likely was a member of the Coelurosauria, possibly even Maniraptora; and, the integumentary appendages are feathers that support a barbule-first evolutionary pattern for feathers. DIP-V-15103 is indeed an intriguing specimen with potential implications for contributing to understanding the evolution of feathers among dinosaurs, which remains a current and undoubtedly controversial topic [2,3]. However, I would like to raise several concerns about the available evidence for the phylogenetic hypothesis concerning the placement of DIP-V-15103 as concluded by Xing and colleagues [1], and furthermore discuss the developmental trajectories predicted by them in light of their far-reaching evolutionary implications.

RevDate: 2017-06-29

Seki R, Li C, Fang Q, et al (2017)

Functional roles of Aves class-specific cis-regulatory elements on macroevolution of bird-specific features.

Nature communications, 8:14229 pii:ncomms14229.

Unlike microevolutionary processes, little is known about the genetic basis of macroevolutionary processes. One of these magnificent examples is the transition from non-avian dinosaurs to birds that has created numerous evolutionary innovations such as self-powered flight and its associated wings with flight feathers. By analysing 48 bird genomes, we identified millions of avian-specific highly conserved elements (ASHCEs) that predominantly (>99%) reside in non-coding regions. Many ASHCEs show differential histone modifications that may participate in regulation of limb development. Comparative embryonic gene expression analyses across tetrapod species suggest ASHCE-associated genes have unique roles in developing avian limbs. In particular, we demonstrate how the ASHCE driven avian-specific expression of gene Sim1 driven by ASHCE may be associated with the evolution and development of flight feathers. Together, these findings demonstrate regulatory roles of ASHCEs in the creation of avian-specific traits, and further highlight the importance of cis-regulatory rewiring during macroevolutionary changes.

RevDate: 2018-07-10
CmpDate: 2017-12-13

Moyer AE, Zheng W, MH Schweitzer (2016)

Microscopic and immunohistochemical analyses of the claw of the nesting dinosaur, Citipati osmolskae.

Proceedings. Biological sciences, 283(1842):.

One of the most well-recognized Cretaceous fossils is Citipati osmolskae (MPC-D 100/979), an oviraptorid dinosaur discovered in brooding position on a nest of unhatched eggs. The original description refers to a thin lens of white material extending from a manus ungual, which was proposed to represent original keratinous claw sheath that, in life, would have covered it. Here, we test the hypothesis that this exceptional morphological preservation extends to the molecular level. The fossil sheath was compared with that of extant birds, revealing similar morphology and microstructural organization. In living birds, the claw sheath consists primarily of two structural proteins; alpha-keratin, expressed in all vertebrates, and beta-keratin, found only in reptiles and birds (sauropsids). We employed antibodies raised against avian feathers, which comprise almost entirely of beta-keratin, to demonstrate that fossil tissues respond with the same specificity, though less intensity, as those from living birds. Furthermore, we show that calcium chelation greatly increased antibody reactivity, suggesting a role for calcium in the preservation of this fossil material.

RevDate: 2017-12-15

Li A, Figueroa S, Jiang TX, et al (2017)

Diverse feather shape evolution enabled by coupling anisotropic signalling modules with self-organizing branching programme.

Nature communications, 8:ncomms14139 pii:ncomms14139.

Adaptation of feathered dinosaurs and Mesozoic birds to new ecological niches was potentiated by rapid diversification of feather vane shapes. The molecular mechanism driving this spectacular process remains unclear. Here, through morphology analysis, transcriptome profiling, functional perturbations and mathematical simulations, we find that mesenchyme-derived GDF10 and GREM1 are major controllers for the topologies of rachidial and barb generative zones (setting vane boundaries), respectively, by tuning the periodic-branching programme of epithelial progenitors. Their interactions with the anterior-posterior WNT gradient establish the bilateral-symmetric vane configuration. Additionally, combinatory effects of CYP26B1, CRABP1 and RALDH3 establish dynamic retinoic acid (RA) landscapes in feather mesenchyme, which modulate GREM1 expression and epithelial cell shapes. Incremental changes of RA gradient slopes establish a continuum of asymmetric flight feathers along the wing, while switch-like modulation of RA signalling confers distinct vane shapes between feather tracts. Therefore, the co-option of anisotropic signalling modules introduced new dimensions of feather shape diversification.

RevDate: 2017-11-30
CmpDate: 2017-09-28

Ruxton GD, Persons Iv WS, PJ Currie (2017)

A continued role for signaling functions in the early evolution of feathers.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 71(3):797-799.

Persons and Currie (2015) argued against either flight, thermoregulation, or signaling as a functional benefit driving the earliest evolution of feathers; rather, they favored simple feathers having an initial tactile sensory function, which changed to a thermoregulatory function as density increased. Here, we explore the relative merits of early simple feathers that may have originated as tactile sensors progressing instead toward a signaling, rather than (or in addition to) a thermoregulatory function. We suggest that signaling could act in concert with a sensory function more naturally than could thermoregulation. As such, the dismissal of a possible signaling function and the presumption that an initial sensory function led directly to a thermoregulatory function (implicit in the title "bristles before down") are premature.

RevDate: 2018-01-22
CmpDate: 2018-01-22

Xing L, McKellar RC, Xu X, et al (2016)

A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber.

Current biology : CB, 26(24):3352-3360.

In the two decades since the discovery of feathered dinosaurs [1-3], the range of plumage known from non-avialan theropods has expanded significantly, confirming several features predicted by developmentally informed models of feather evolution [4-10]. However, three-dimensional feather morphology and evolutionary patterns remain difficult to interpret, due to compression in sedimentary rocks [9, 11]. Recent discoveries in Cretaceous amber from Canada, France, Japan, Lebanon, Myanmar, and the United States [12-18] reveal much finer levels of structural detail, but taxonomic placement is uncertain because plumage is rarely associated with identifiable skeletal material [14]. Here we describe the feathered tail of a non-avialan theropod preserved in mid-Cretaceous (∼99 Ma) amber from Kachin State, Myanmar [17], with plumage structure that directly informs the evolutionary developmental pathway of feathers. This specimen provides an opportunity to document pristine feathers in direct association with a putative juvenile coelurosaur, preserving fine morphological details, including the spatial arrangement of follicles and feathers on the body, and micrometer-scale features of the plumage. Many feathers exhibit a short, slender rachis with alternating barbs and a uniform series of contiguous barbules, supporting the developmental hypothesis that barbs already possessed barbules when they fused to form the rachis [19]. Beneath the feathers, carbonized soft tissues offer a glimpse of preservational potential and history for the inclusion; abundant Fe2+ suggests that vestiges of primary hemoglobin and ferritin remain trapped within the tail. The new finding highlights the unique preservation potential of amber for understanding the morphology and evolution of coelurosaurian integumentary structures.

RevDate: 2018-04-03
CmpDate: 2018-04-03

Pan Y, Zheng W, Moyer AE, et al (2016)

Molecular evidence of keratin and melanosomes in feathers of the Early Cretaceous bird Eoconfuciusornis.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(49):E7900-E7907.

Microbodies associated with feathers of both nonavian dinosaurs and early birds were first identified as bacteria but have been reinterpreted as melanosomes. Whereas melanosomes in modern feathers are always surrounded by and embedded in keratin, melanosomes embedded in keratin in fossils has not been demonstrated. Here we provide multiple independent molecular analyses of both microbodies and the associated matrix recovered from feathers of a new specimen of the basal bird Eoconfuciusornis from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China. Our work represents the oldest ultrastructural and immunological recognition of avian beta-keratin from an Early Cretaceous (∼130-Ma) bird. We apply immunogold to identify protein epitopes at high resolution, by localizing antibody-antigen complexes to specific fossil ultrastructures. Retention of original keratinous proteins in the matrix surrounding electron-opaque microbodies supports their assignment as melanosomes and adds to the criteria employable to distinguish melanosomes from microbial bodies. Our work sheds new light on molecular preservation within normally labile tissues preserved in fossils.

RevDate: 2017-02-20

Gates TA, Organ C, LE Zanno (2016)

Bony cranial ornamentation linked to rapid evolution of gigantic theropod dinosaurs.

Nature communications, 7:12931 pii:ncomms12931.

Exaggerated cranial structures such as crests and horns, hereafter referred to collectively as ornaments, are pervasive across animal species. These structures perform vital roles in visual communication and physical interactions within and between species. Yet the origin and influence of ornamentation on speciation and ecology across macroevolutionary time scales remains poorly understood for virtually all animals. Here, we explore correlative evolution of osseous cranial ornaments with large body size in theropod dinosaurs using a phylogenetic comparative framework. We find that body size evolved directionally toward phyletic giantism an order of magnitude faster in theropod species possessing ornaments compared with unadorned lineages. In addition, we find a body mass threshold below which bony cranial ornaments do not originate. Maniraptoriform dinosaurs generally lack osseous cranial ornaments despite repeatedly crossing this body size threshold. Our study provides novel, quantitative support for a shift in selective pressures on socio-sexual display mechanisms in theropods coincident with the evolution of pennaceous feathers.

RevDate: 2018-03-19
CmpDate: 2017-12-27

Vinther J, Nicholls R, Lautenschlager S, et al (2016)

3D Camouflage in an Ornithischian Dinosaur.

Current biology : CB, 26(18):2456-2462.

Countershading was one of the first proposed mechanisms of camouflage [1, 2]. A dark dorsum and light ventrum counteract the gradient created by illumination from above, obliterating cues to 3D shape [3-6]. Because the optimal countershading varies strongly with light environment [7-9], pigmentation patterns give clues to an animal's habitat. Indeed, comparative evidence from ungulates [9] shows that interspecific variation in countershading matches predictions: in open habitats, where direct overhead sunshine dominates, a sharp dark-light color transition high up the body is evident; in closed habitats (e.g., under forest canopy), diffuse illumination dominates and a smoother dorsoventral gradation is found. We can apply this approach to extinct animals in which the preservation of fossil melanin allows reconstruction of coloration [10-15]. Here we present a study of an exceptionally well-preserved specimen of Psittacosaurus sp. from the Chinese Jehol biota [16, 17]. This Psittacosaurus was countershaded [16] with a light underbelly and tail, whereas the chest was more pigmented. Other patterns resemble disruptive camouflage, whereas the chin and jugal bosses on the face appear dark. We projected the color patterns onto an anatomically accurate life-size model in order to assess their function experimentally. The patterns are compared to the predicted optimal countershading from the measured radiance patterns generated on an identical uniform gray model in direct versus diffuse illumination. These studies suggest that Psittacosaurus sp. inhabited a closed habitat such as a forest with a relatively dense canopy. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

RevDate: 2018-05-04
CmpDate: 2017-12-11

Twyman H, Valenzuela N, Literman R, et al (2016)

Seeing red to being red: conserved genetic mechanism for red cone oil droplets and co-option for red coloration in birds and turtles.

Proceedings. Biological sciences, 283(1836):.

Avian ketocarotenoid pigments occur in both the red retinal oil droplets that contribute to colour vision and bright red coloration used in signalling. Turtles are the only other tetrapods with red retinal oil droplets, and some also display red carotenoid-based coloration. Recently, the CYP2J19 gene was strongly implicated in ketocarotenoid synthesis in birds. Here, we investigate CYP2J19 evolution in relation to colour vision and red coloration in reptiles using genomic and expression data. We show that turtles, but not crocodiles or lepidosaurs, possess a CYP2J19 orthologue, which arose via gene duplication before turtles and archosaurs split, and which is strongly and specifically expressed in the ketocarotenoid-containing retina and red integument. We infer that CYP2J19 initially functioned in colour vision in archelosaurs and conclude that red ketocarotenoid-based coloration evolved independently in birds and turtles via gene regulatory changes of CYP2J19 Our results suggest that red oil droplets contributed to colour vision in dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-07-21

Dececchi TA, Larsson HC, MB Habib (2016)

The wings before the bird: an evaluation of flapping-based locomotory hypotheses in bird antecedents.

PeerJ, 4:e2159 pii:2159.

BACKGROUND: Powered flight is implicated as a major driver for the success of birds. Here we examine the effectiveness of three hypothesized pathways for the evolution of the flight stroke, the forelimb motion that powers aerial locomotion, in a terrestrial setting across a range of stem and basal avians: flap running, Wing Assisted Incline Running (WAIR), and wing-assisted leaping.

METHODS: Using biomechanical mathematical models based on known aerodynamic principals and in vivo experiments and ground truthed using extant avians we seek to test if an incipient flight stroke may have contributed sufficient force to permit flap running, WAIR, or leaping takeoff along the phylogenetic lineage from Coelurosauria to birds.

RESULTS: None of these behaviours were found to meet the biomechanical threshold requirements before Paraves. Neither was there a continuous trend of refinement for any of these biomechanical performances across phylogeny nor a signal of universal applicability near the origin of birds. None of these flap-based locomotory models appear to have been a major influence on pre-flight character acquisition such as pennaceous feathers, suggesting non-locomotory behaviours, and less stringent locomotory behaviours such as balancing and braking, played a role in the evolution of the maniraptoran wing and nascent flight stroke. We find no support for widespread prevalence of WAIR in non-avian theropods, but can't reject its presence in large winged, small-bodied taxa like Microraptor and Archaeopteryx.

DISCUSSION: Using our first principles approach we find that "near flight" locomotor behaviors are most sensitive to wing area, and that non-locomotory related selection regimes likely expanded wing area well before WAIR and other such behaviors were possible in derived avians. These results suggest that investigations of the drivers for wing expansion and feather elongation in theropods need not be intrinsically linked to locomotory adaptations, and this separation is critical for our understanding of the origin of powered flight and avian evolution.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-07-21

Prado GM, Anelli LE, Petri S, et al (2016)

New occurrences of fossilized feathers: systematics and taphonomy of the Santana Formation of the Araripe Basin (Cretaceous), NE, Brazil.

PeerJ, 4:e1916 pii:1916.

Here we describe three fossil feathers from the Early Cretaceous Santana Formation of the Araripe Basin, Brazil. Feathers are the most complex multiform vertebrate integuments; they perform different functions, occurring in both avian and non-avian dinosaurs. Despite their rarity, fossil feathers have been found across the world. Most of the Brazilian feather fossil record comes from the Santana Formation. This formation is composed of two members: Crato (lake) and Romualdo (lagoon); both of which are predominantly reduced deposits, precluding bottom dwelling organisms, resulting in exceptional preservation of the fossils. Despite arid and hot conditions during the Cretaceous, life teemed in the adjacency of this paleolake. Feathered non-avian dinosaurs have not yet been described from the Crato Member, even though there are suggestions of their presence in nearby basins. Our description of the three feathers from the Crato laminated limestone reveals that, despite the small sample size, they can be referred to coelurosaurian theropods. Moreover, based on comparisons with extant feather morphotypes they can be identified as one contour feather and two downy feathers. Despite their rareness and low taxonomic potential, fossilized feathers can offer insights about the paleobiology of its owners and the paleoecology of the Araripe Basin.

RevDate: 2017-02-20

Xing L, McKellar RC, Wang M, et al (2016)

Mummified precocial bird wings in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.

Nature communications, 7:12089 pii:ncomms12089.

Our knowledge of Cretaceous plumage is limited by the fossil record itself: compression fossils surrounding skeletons lack the finest morphological details and seldom preserve visible traces of colour, while discoveries in amber have been disassociated from their source animals. Here we report the osteology, plumage and pterylosis of two exceptionally preserved theropod wings from Burmese amber, with vestiges of soft tissues. The extremely small size and osteological development of the wings, combined with their digit proportions, strongly suggests that the remains represent precocial hatchlings of enantiornithine birds. These specimens demonstrate that the plumage types associated with modern birds were present within single individuals of Enantiornithes by the Cenomanian (99 million years ago), providing insights into plumage arrangement and microstructure alongside immature skeletal remains. This finding brings new detail to our understanding of infrequently preserved juveniles, including the first concrete examples of follicles, feather tracts and apteria in Cretaceous avialans.

RevDate: 2018-02-22
CmpDate: 2018-02-22

Lovegrove BG (2017)

A phenology of the evolution of endothermy in birds and mammals.

Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 92(2):1213-1240.

Recent palaeontological data and novel physiological hypotheses now allow a timescaled reconstruction of the evolution of endothermy in birds and mammals. A three-phase iterative model describing how endothermy evolved from Permian ectothermic ancestors is presented. In Phase One I propose that the elevation of endothermy - increased metabolism and body temperature (Tb) - complemented large-body-size homeothermy during the Permian and Triassic in response to the fitness benefits of enhanced embryo development (parental care) and the activity demands of conquering dry land. I propose that Phase Two commenced in the Late Triassic and Jurassic and was marked by extreme body-size miniaturization, the evolution of enhanced body insulation (fur and feathers), increased brain size, thermoregulatory control, and increased ecomorphological diversity. I suggest that Phase Three occurred during the Cretaceous and Cenozoic and involved endothermic pulses associated with the evolution of muscle-powered flapping flight in birds, terrestrial cursoriality in mammals, and climate adaptation in response to Late Cenozoic cooling in both birds and mammals. Although the triphasic model argues for an iterative evolution of endothermy in pulses throughout the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, it is also argued that endothermy was potentially abandoned at any time that a bird or mammal did not rely upon its thermal benefits for parental care or breeding success. The abandonment would have taken the form of either hibernation or daily torpor as observed in extant endotherms. Thus torpor and hibernation are argued to be as ancient as the origins of endothermy itself, a plesiomorphic characteristic observed today in many small birds and mammals.

RevDate: 2018-03-15
CmpDate: 2017-12-29

Larson DW, Brown CM, DC Evans (2016)

Dental Disparity and Ecological Stability in Bird-like Dinosaurs prior to the End-Cretaceous Mass Extinction.

Current biology : CB, 26(10):1325-1333.

The causes, rate, and selectivity of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction continue to be highly debated [1-5]. Extinction patterns in small, feathered maniraptoran dinosaurs (including birds) are important for understanding extant biodiversity and present an enigma considering the survival of crown group birds (Neornithes) and the extinction of their close kin across the end-Cretaceous boundary [6]. Because of the patchy Cretaceous fossil record of small maniraptorans [7-12], this important transition has not been closely examined in this group. Here, we test the hypothesis that morphological disparity in bird-like dinosaurs was decreasing leading up to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, as has been hypothesized in some dinosaurs [13, 14]. To test this, we examined tooth morphology, an ecological indicator in fossil reptiles [15-19], from over 3,100 maniraptoran teeth from four groups (Troodontidae, Dromaeosauridae, Richardoestesia, and cf. Aves) across the last 18 million years of the Cretaceous. We demonstrate that tooth disparity, a proxy for variation in feeding ecology, shows no significant decline leading up to the extinction event within any of the groups. Tooth morphospace occupation also remains static over this time interval except for increased size during the early Maastrichtian. Our data provide strong support that extinction within this group occurred suddenly after a prolonged period of ecological stability. To explain this sudden extinction of toothed maniraptorans and the survival of Neornithes, we propose that diet may have been an extinction filter and suggest that granivory associated with an edentulous beak was a key ecological trait in the survival of some lineages.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2017-02-17

Heers AM, Baier DB, Jackson BE, et al (2016)

Flapping before Flight: High Resolution, Three-Dimensional Skeletal Kinematics of Wings and Legs during Avian Development.

PloS one, 11(4):e0153446 pii:PONE-D-15-55862.

Some of the greatest transformations in vertebrate history involve developmental and evolutionary origins of avian flight. Flight is the most power-demanding mode of locomotion, and volant adult birds have many anatomical features that presumably help meet these demands. However, juvenile birds, like the first winged dinosaurs, lack many hallmarks of advanced flight capacity. Instead of large wings they have small "protowings", and instead of robust, interlocking forelimb skeletons their limbs are more gracile and their joints less constrained. Such traits are often thought to preclude extinct theropods from powered flight, yet young birds with similarly rudimentary anatomies flap-run up slopes and even briefly fly, thereby challenging longstanding ideas on skeletal and feather function in the theropod-avian lineage. Though skeletons and feathers are the common link between extinct and extant theropods and figure prominently in discussions on flight performance (extant birds) and flight origins (extinct theropods), skeletal inter-workings are hidden from view and their functional relationship with aerodynamically active wings is not known. For the first time, we use X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology to visualize skeletal movement in developing birds, and explore how development of the avian flight apparatus corresponds with ontogenetic trajectories in skeletal kinematics, aerodynamic performance, and the locomotor transition from pre-flight flapping behaviors to full flight capacity. Our findings reveal that developing chukars (Alectoris chukar) with rudimentary flight apparatuses acquire an "avian" flight stroke early in ontogeny, initially by using their wings and legs cooperatively and, as they acquire flight capacity, counteracting ontogenetic increases in aerodynamic output with greater skeletal channelization. In conjunction with previous work, juvenile birds thereby demonstrate that the initial function of developing wings is to enhance leg performance, and that aerodynamically active, flapping wings might better be viewed as adaptations or exaptations for enhancing leg performance.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-12-15

Galván I, F Solano (2016)

Bird Integumentary Melanins: Biosynthesis, Forms, Function and Evolution.

International journal of molecular sciences, 17(4):520 pii:ijms17040520.

Melanins are the ubiquitous pigments distributed in nature. They are one of the main pigments responsible for colors in living cells. Birds are among the most diverse animals regarding melanin-based coloration, especially in the plumage, although they also pigment bare parts of the integument. This review is devoted to the main characteristics of bird melanins, including updated views of the formation and nature of melanin granules, whose interest has been raised in the last years for inferring the color of extinct birds and non-avian theropod dinosaurs using resistant fossil feathers. The molecular structure of the two main types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin, and the environmental and genetic factors that regulate avian melanogenesis are also presented, establishing the main relationship between them. Finally, the special functions of melanin in bird feathers are also discussed, emphasizing the aspects more closely related to these animals, such as honest signaling, and the factors that may drive the evolution of pheomelanin and pheomelanin-based color traits, an issue for which birds have been pioneer study models.

RevDate: 2018-03-14
CmpDate: 2018-01-19

McNamara ME, Orr PJ, Kearns SL, et al (2016)

Reconstructing Carotenoid-Based and Structural Coloration in Fossil Skin.

Current biology : CB, 26(8):1075-1082.

Evidence of original coloration in fossils provides insights into the visual communication strategies used by ancient animals and the functional evolution of coloration over time [1-7]. Hitherto, all reconstructions of the colors of reptile integument and the plumage of fossil birds and feathered dinosaurs have been of melanin-based coloration [1-6]. Extant animals also use other mechanisms for producing color [8], but these have not been identified in fossils. Here we report the first examples of carotenoid-based coloration in the fossil record, and of structural coloration in fossil integument. The fossil skin, from a 10 million-year-old colubrid snake from the Late Miocene Libros Lagerstätte (Teruel, Spain) [9, 10], preserves dermal pigment cells (chromatophores)-xanthophores, iridophores, and melanophores-in calcium phosphate. Comparison with chromatophore abundance and position in extant reptiles [11-15] indicates that the fossil snake was pale-colored in ventral regions; dorsal and lateral regions were green with brown-black and yellow-green transverse blotches. Such coloration most likely functioned in substrate matching and intraspecific signaling. Skin replicated in authigenic minerals is not uncommon in exceptionally preserved fossils [16, 17], and dermal pigment cells generate coloration in numerous reptile, amphibian, and fish taxa today [18]. Our discovery thus represents a new means by which to reconstruct the original coloration of exceptionally preserved fossil vertebrates.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-03-25

Llorente B, D'Andrea L, M Rodríguez-Concepción (2016)

Evolutionary Recycling of Light Signaling Components in Fleshy Fruits: New Insights on the Role of Pigments to Monitor Ripening.

Frontiers in plant science, 7:263.

Besides an essential source of energy, light provides environmental information to plants. Photosensory pathways are thought to have occurred early in plant evolution, probably at the time of the Archaeplastida ancestor, or perhaps even earlier. Manipulation of individual components of light perception and signaling networks in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) affects the metabolism of ripening fruit at several levels. Most strikingly, recent experiments have shown that some of the molecular mechanisms originally devoted to sense and respond to environmental light cues have been re-adapted during evolution to provide plants with useful information on fruit ripening progression. In particular, the presence of chlorophylls in green fruit can strongly influence the spectral composition of the light filtered through the fruit pericarp. The concomitant changes in light quality can be perceived and transduced by phytochromes (PHYs) and PHY-interacting factors, respectively, to regulate gene expression and in turn modulate the production of carotenoids, a family of metabolites that are relevant for the final pigmentation of ripe fruits. We raise the hypothesis that the evolutionary recycling of light-signaling components to finely adjust pigmentation to the actual ripening stage of the fruit may have represented a selective advantage for primeval fleshy-fruited plants even before the extinction of dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2017-01-10

Domyan ET, Kronenberg Z, Infante CR, et al (2016)

Molecular shifts in limb identity underlie development of feathered feet in two domestic avian species.

eLife, 5:e12115.

Birds display remarkable diversity in the distribution and morphology of scales and feathers on their feet, yet the genetic and developmental mechanisms governing this diversity remain unknown. Domestic pigeons have striking variation in foot feathering within a single species, providing a tractable model to investigate the molecular basis of skin appendage differences. We found that feathered feet in pigeons result from a partial transformation from hindlimb to forelimb identity mediated by cis-regulatory changes in the genes encoding the hindlimb-specific transcription factor Pitx1 and forelimb-specific transcription factor Tbx5. We also found that ectopic expression of Tbx5 is associated with foot feathers in chickens, suggesting similar molecular pathways underlie phenotypic convergence between these two species. These results show how changes in expression of regional patterning genes can generate localized changes in organ fate and morphology, and provide viable molecular mechanisms for diversity in hindlimb scale and feather distribution.

RevDate: 2016-01-17
CmpDate: 2016-08-11

Turner DD (2016)

A second look at the colors of the dinosaurs.

Studies in history and philosophy of science, 55:60-68.

In earlier work, I predicted that we would probably not be able to determine the colors of the dinosaurs. I lost this epistemic bet against science in dramatic fashion when scientists discovered that it is possible to draw inferences about dinosaur coloration based on the microstructure of fossil feathers (Vinther et al., 2008). This paper is an exercise in philosophical error analysis. I examine this episode with two questions in mind. First, does this case lend any support to epistemic optimism about historical science? Second, under what conditions is it rational to make predictions about what questions scientists will or will not be able answer? In reply to the first question, I argue that the recent work on the colors of the dinosaurs matters less to the debate about the epistemology of historical science than it might seem. In reply to the second question, I argue that it is difficult to specify a policy that would rule out the failed bet without also being too conservative.

RevDate: 2017-05-04
CmpDate: 2016-11-04

Eliason CM, Shawkey MD, JA Clarke (2016)

Evolutionary shifts in the melanin-based color system of birds.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 70(2):445-455.

Melanin pigments contained in organelles (melanosomes) impart earthy colors to feathers. Such melanin-based colors are distributed across birds and thought to be the ancestral color-producing mechanism in birds. However, we have had limited data on melanin-based color and melanosome diversity in Palaeognathae, which includes the flighted tinamous and large-bodied, flightless ratites and is the sister taxon to all other extant birds. Here, we use scanning electron microscopy and spectrophotometry to assess melanosome morphology and quantify reflected color for 19 species within this clade. We find that brown colors in ratites are uniquely associated with elongated melanosomes nearly identical in shape to those associated with black colors. Melanosome and color diversity in large-bodied ratites is limited relative to other birds (including flightless penguins) and smaller bodied basal maniraptoran dinosaur outgroups of Aves, whereas tinamous show a wider range of melanosome forms similar to neognaths. The repeated occurrence of novel melanosome forms in the nonmonophyletic ratites suggests that melanin-based color tracks changes in body size, physiology, or other life history traits associated with flight loss, but not feather morphology. We further anticipate these findings will be useful for future color reconstructions in extinct species, as variation in melanosome shape may potentially be linked to a more nuanced palette of melanin-based colors.

RevDate: 2016-01-14
CmpDate: 2016-08-04

Dittmar K, Zhu Q, Hastriter MW, et al (2016)

On the probability of dinosaur fleas.

BMC evolutionary biology, 16:9 pii:10.1186/s12862-015-0568-x.

Recently, a set of publications described flea fossils from Jurassic and Early Cretaceous geological strata in northeastern China, which were suggested to have parasitized feathered dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and early birds or mammals. In support of these fossils being fleas, a recent publication in BMC Evolutionary Biology described the extended abdomen of a female fossil specimen as due to blood feeding.We here comment on these findings, and conclude that the current interpretation of the evolutionary trajectory and ecology of these putative dinosaur fleas is based on appeal to probability, rather than evidence. Hence, their taxonomic positioning as fleas, or stem fleas, as well as their ecological classification as ectoparasites and blood feeders is not supported by currently available data.

RevDate: 2017-01-11
CmpDate: 2017-01-10

Vinther J (2016)

Fossil melanosomes or bacteria? A wealth of findings favours melanosomes: Melanin fossilises relatively readily, bacteria rarely, hence the need for clarification in the debate over the identity of microbodies in fossil animal specimens.

BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, 38(3):220-225.

The discovery of fossil melanosomes has resulted in a wealth of research over the last 7 years, notably the reconstruction of colour in dinosaurs and fossil mammals. In spite of these discoveries some authors persist in arguing that the observed microbodies could represent preserved bacteria. They contend that bacteria fossilise easily and everywhere, which means that one can never be certain that a microbody is a melanosome without an extraordinary burden of evidence. However, this critique mischaracterises the morphological and structural evidence for interpreting microbodies as fossil melanosomes, and hence the basis for using them in reconstructing prehistoric colours. The claims for bacterial omnipresence in the fossil record are themselves not supported, thus tipping the scales strongly towards melanosomes in the bacteria-versus-melanosome controversy.

RevDate: 2015-10-14
CmpDate: 2016-08-11

Navalón G, Marugán-Lobón J, Chiappe LM, et al (2015)

Soft-tissue and dermal arrangement in the wing of an Early Cretaceous bird: Implications for the evolution of avian flight.

Scientific reports, 5:14864 pii:srep14864.

Despite a wealth of fossils of Mesozoic birds revealing evidence of plumage and other soft-tissue structures, the epidermal and dermal anatomy of their wing's patagia remain largely unknown. We describe a distal forelimb of an enantiornithine bird from the Lower Cretaceous limestones of Las Hoyas, Spain, which reveals the overall morphology of the integument of the wing and other connective structures associated with the insertion of flight feathers. The integumentary anatomy, and myological and arthrological organization of the new fossil is remarkably similar to that of modern birds, in which a system of small muscles, tendons and ligaments attaches to the follicles of the remigial feathers and maintains the functional integrity of the wing during flight. The new fossil documents the oldest known occurrence of connective tissues in association with the flight feathers of birds. Furthermore, the presence of an essentially modern connective arrangement in the wing of enantiornithines supports the interpretation of these primitive birds as competent fliers.

RevDate: 2015-10-07
CmpDate: 2016-07-19

Brusatte SL, O'Connor JK, ED Jarvis (2015)

The Origin and Diversification of Birds.

Current biology : CB, 25(19):R888-98.

Birds are one of the most recognizable and diverse groups of modern vertebrates. Over the past two decades, a wealth of new fossil discoveries and phylogenetic and macroevolutionary studies has transformed our understanding of how birds originated and became so successful. Birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic (around 165-150 million years ago) and their classic small, lightweight, feathered, and winged body plan was pieced together gradually over tens of millions of years of evolution rather than in one burst of innovation. Early birds diversified throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous, becoming capable fliers with supercharged growth rates, but were decimated at the end-Cretaceous extinction alongside their close dinosaurian relatives. After the mass extinction, modern birds (members of the avian crown group) explosively diversified, culminating in more than 10,000 species distributed worldwide today.

RevDate: 2015-09-05
CmpDate: 2016-09-15

Lindgren J, Sjövall P, Carney RM, et al (2015)

Molecular composition and ultrastructure of Jurassic paravian feathers.

Scientific reports, 5:13520 pii:srep13520.

Feathers are amongst the most complex epidermal structures known, and they have a well-documented evolutionary trajectory across non-avian dinosaurs and basal birds. Moreover, melanosome-like microbodies preserved in association with fossil plumage have been used to reconstruct original colour, behaviour and physiology. However, these putative ancient melanosomes might alternatively represent microorganismal residues, a conflicting interpretation compounded by a lack of unambiguous chemical data. We therefore used sensitive molecular imaging, supported by multiple independent analytical tests, to demonstrate that the filamentous epidermal appendages in a new specimen of the Jurassic paravian Anchiornis comprise remnant eumelanosomes and fibril-like microstructures, preserved as endogenous eumelanin and authigenic calcium phosphate. These results provide novel insights into the early evolution of feathers at the sub-cellular level, and unequivocally determine that melanosomes can be preserved in fossil feathers.

RevDate: 2015-07-29
CmpDate: 2016-08-11

Lü J, SL Brusatte (2015)

A large, short-armed, winged dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and its implications for feather evolution.

Scientific reports, 5:11775 pii:srep11775.

The famous 'feathered dinosaurs' from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, northeastern China, include several dromaeosaurids, which are among the closest relatives of birds. Most of these are small-bodied taxa with long arms and broad wings comprised of vaned feathers, but a single specimen (the holotype of Tianyuraptor) belongs to a much larger individual with reduced forelimbs, which unfortunately lacks any preserved integument. We describe a new specimen of large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid, which we designate as a new genus and species, Zhenyuanlong suni. The integument is well preserved and provides the first evidence of feather morphologies and distribution in a short-armed (and probably non-volant) dromaeosaurid, indicating that these rare and aberrant taxa had large wings consisting of pennaceous feathers on the arms and long pennaceous feathers on the tail very similar to their smaller and longer-armed relatives, but potentially lacked vaned feathers on the legs. Zhenyuanlong adds yet more diversity to the Liaoning dromaeosaurid fauna, helps further reveal a distinct short-armed bauplan among dromaeosaurids, and illuminates previously-unrecognized homoplasy that complicates dromaeosaurid phylogeny and suggests that the Liaoning taxa may not have formed their own clade.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-05-03

Smith T, V Codrea (2015)

Red Iron-Pigmented Tooth Enamel in a Multituberculate Mammal from the Late Cretaceous Transylvanian "Haţeg Island".

PloS one, 10(7):e0132550 pii:PONE-D-15-06765.

Mammals that inhabit islands are characterized by peculiar morphologies in comparison to their mainland relatives. Here we report the discovery of a partial skull associated with the lower jaws of a Late Cretaceous (≈70 Ma) multituberculate mammal from the Carpathian "Haţeg Island" of Transylvania, Romania. The mammal belongs to the Kogaionidae, one of the rare families that survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction in Europe. The excellent preservation of this specimen allows for the first time description of the complete dentition of a kogaionid and demonstration that the enigmatic Barbatodon transylvanicus presents a mosaic of primitive and derived characters, and that it is phylogenetically basal among the Cimolodonta. Another peculiarity is the presence of red pigmentation in its tooth enamel. The red coloration is present on the anterior side of the incisors and on the cusps of most of the teeth. Energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDS) analysis reveals that the pigmented enamel contains iron, as in living placentals. Such a red pigmentation is known in living soricine shrews and many families of rodents, where it is thought to increase the resistance of the enamel to the abrasion that occurs during "grinding" mastication. The extended pattern of red pigment distribution in Barbatodon is more similar to that in eulipotyplan insectivores than to that in rodents and suggests a very hard diet and, importantly, demonstrates that its grasping incisors were not ever-growing. As inferred for other endemic Transylvanian vertebrates such as dwarf herbivorous dinosaurs and unusual theropod dinosaurs, insularity was probably the main factor of survival of such a primitive mammalian lineage relative to other mainland contemporaries of the Northern hemisphere.

RevDate: 2016-06-01
CmpDate: 2016-03-09

Barrett PM, Evans DC, NE Campione (2015)

Evolution of dinosaur epidermal structures.

Biology letters, 11(6):20150229.

Spectacularly preserved non-avian dinosaurs with integumentary filaments/feathers have revolutionized dinosaur studies and fostered the suggestion that the dinosaur common ancestor possessed complex integumentary structures homologous to feathers. This hypothesis has major implications for interpreting dinosaur biology, but has not been tested rigorously. Using a comprehensive database of dinosaur skin traces, we apply maximum-likelihood methods to reconstruct the phylogenetic distribution of epidermal structures and interpret their evolutionary history. Most of these analyses find no compelling evidence for the appearance of protofeathers in the dinosaur common ancestor and scales are usually recovered as the plesiomorphic state, but results are sensitive to the outgroup condition in pterosaurs. Rare occurrences of ornithischian filamentous integument might represent independent acquisitions of novel epidermal structures that are not homologous with theropod feathers.

RevDate: 2015-05-12
CmpDate: 2015-08-03

Musser JM, Wagner GP, RO Prum (2015)

Nuclear β-catenin localization supports homology of feathers, avian scutate scales, and alligator scales in early development.

Evolution & development, 17(3):185-194.

Feathers are an evolutionary novelty found in all extant birds. Despite recent progress investigating feather development and a revolution in dinosaur paleontology, the relationship of feathers to other amniote skin appendages, particularly reptile scales, remains unclear. Disagreement arises primarily from the observation that feathers and avian scutate scales exhibit an anatomical placode-defined as an epidermal thickening-in early development, whereas alligator and other avian scales do not. To investigate the homology of feathers and archosaur scales we examined patterns of nuclear β-catenin localization during early development of feathers and different bird and alligator scales. In birds, nuclear β-catenin is first localized to the feather placode, and then exhibits a dynamic pattern of localization in both epidermis and dermis of the feather bud. We found that asymmetric avian scutate scales and alligator scales share similar patterns of nuclear β-catenin localization with feathers. This supports the hypothesis that feathers, scutate scales, and alligator scales are homologous during early developmental stages, and are derived from early developmental stages of an asymmetric scale present in the archosaur ancestor. Furthermore, given that the earliest stage of β-catenin localization in feathers and archosaur scales is also found in placodes of several mammalian skin appendages, including hair and mammary glands, we hypothesize that a common skin appendage placode originated in the common ancestor of all amniotes. We suggest a skin placode should not be defined by anatomical features, but as a local, organized molecular signaling center from which an epidermal appendage develops.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2015-05-27

Anonymous (2015)

More on unicorns.

Nature, 520(7549):586.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-06-02

Xu X, Zheng X, Sullivan C, et al (2015)

A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings.

Nature, 521(7550):70-73.

The wings of birds and their closest theropod relatives share a uniform fundamental architecture, with pinnate flight feathers as the key component. Here we report a new scansoriopterygid theropod, Yi qi gen. et sp. nov., based on a new specimen from the Middle-Upper Jurassic period Tiaojishan Formation of Hebei Province, China. Yi is nested phylogenetically among winged theropods but has large stiff filamentous feathers of an unusual type on both the forelimb and hindlimb. However, the filamentous feathers of Yi resemble pinnate feathers in bearing morphologically diverse melanosomes. Most surprisingly, Yi has a long rod-like bone extending from each wrist, and patches of membranous tissue preserved between the rod-like bones and the manual digits. Analogous features are unknown in any dinosaur but occur in various flying and gliding tetrapods, suggesting the intriguing possibility that Yi had membranous aerodynamic surfaces totally different from the archetypal feathered wings of birds and their closest relatives. Documentation of the unique forelimbs of Yi greatly increases the morphological disparity known to exist among dinosaurs, and highlights the extraordinary breadth and richness of the evolutionary experimentation that took place close to the origin of birds.

RevDate: 2015-05-22
CmpDate: 2016-02-26

Vinther J (2015)

A guide to the field of palaeo colour: Melanin and other pigments can fossilise: Reconstructing colour patterns from ancient organisms can give new insights to ecology and behaviour.

BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, 37(6):643-656.

Melanin, and other pigments have recently been shown to preserve over geologic time scales, and are found in several different organisms. This opens up the possibility of inferring colours and colour patterns ranging from invertebrates to feathered dinosaurs and mammals. An emerging discipline is palaeo colour: colour plays an important role in display and camouflage as well as in integumental strengthening and protection, which makes possible the hitherto difficult task of doing inferences about past ecologies, behaviours, and organismal appearance. Several studies and techniques have been presented in the last couple of years that have described ways to characterize pigment patterns. Here, I will review the available methods and the likely applications to understand past ecologies. A golden age of colourized dinosaurs and other animals is now dawning upon us, which may elucidate the nature of ancient predator prey interactions and display structures.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2016-04-05

Persons WS, Funston GF, Currie PJ, et al (2015)

A possible instance of sexual dimorphism in the tails of two oviraptorosaur dinosaurs.

Scientific reports, 5:9472 pii:srep09472.

The hypothesis that oviraptorosaurs used tail-feather displays in courtship behavior previously predicted that oviraptorosaurs would be found to display sexually dimorphic caudal osteology. MPC-D 100/1002 and MPC-D 100/1127 are two specimens of the oviraptorosaur Khaan mckennai. Although similar in absolute size and in virtually all other anatomical details, the anterior haemal spines of MPC-D 100/1002 exceed those of MPC-D 100/1127 in ventral depth and develop a hitherto unreported "spearhead" shape. This dissimilarity cannot be readily explained as pathologic and is too extreme to be reasonably attributed to the amount of individual variation expected among con-specifics. Instead, this discrepancy in haemal spine morphology may be attributable to sexual dimorphism. The haemal spine form of MPC-D 100/1002 offers greater surface area for caudal muscle insertions. On this basis, MPC-D 100/1002 is regarded as most probably male, and MPC-D 100/1127 is regarded as most probably female.

RevDate: 2015-04-20
CmpDate: 2015-12-07

Persons WS, PJ Currie (2015)

Bristles before down: a new perspective on the functional origin of feathers.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 69(4):857-862.

Over the course of the last two decades, the understanding of the early evolution of feathers in nonavian dinosaurs has been revolutionized. It is now recognized that early feathers had a simple form comparable in general structure to the hairs of mammals. Insight into the prevalence of simple feathers throughout the dinosaur family tree has gradually arisen in tandem with the growing evidence for endothermic dinosaur metabolisms. This has led to the generally accepted opinion that the early feather coats of dinosaurs functioned as thermo insulation. However, thermo insulation is often erroneously stated to be a likely functional explanation for the origin of feathers. The problem with this explanation is that, like mammalian hair, simple feathers could serve as insulation only when present in sufficiently high concentrations. The theory therefore necessitates the origination of feathers en masse. We advocate for a novel origin theory of feathers as bristles. Bristles are facial feathers common among modern birds that function like mammalian tactile whiskers, and are frequently simple and hair-like in form. Bristles serve their role in low concentrations, and therefore offer a feasible first stage in feather evolution.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2015-11-20

Feo TJ, Field DJ, RO Prum (2015)

Barb geometry of asymmetrical feathers reveals a transitional morphology in the evolution of avian flight.

Proceedings. Biological sciences, 282(1803):20142864.

The geometry of feather barbs (barb length and barb angle) determines feather vane asymmetry and vane rigidity, which are both critical to a feather's aerodynamic performance. Here, we describe the relationship between barb geometry and aerodynamic function across the evolutionary history of asymmetrical flight feathers, from Mesozoic taxa outside of modern avian diversity (Microraptor, Archaeopteryx, Sapeornis, Confuciusornis and the enantiornithine Eopengornis) to an extensive sample of modern birds. Contrary to previous assumptions, we find that barb angle is not related to vane-width asymmetry; instead barb angle varies with vane function, whereas barb length variation determines vane asymmetry. We demonstrate that barb geometry significantly differs among functionally distinct portions of flight feather vanes, and that cutting-edge leading vanes occupy a distinct region of morphospace characterized by small barb angles. This cutting-edge vane morphology is ubiquitous across a phylogenetically and functionally diverse sample of modern birds and Mesozoic stem birds, revealing a fundamental aerodynamic adaptation that has persisted from the Late Jurassic. However, in Mesozoic taxa stemward of Ornithurae and Enantiornithes, trailing vane barb geometry is distinctly different from that of modern birds. In both modern birds and enantiornithines, trailing vanes have larger barb angles than in comparatively stemward taxa like Archaeopteryx, which exhibit small trailing vane barb angles. This discovery reveals a previously unrecognized evolutionary transition in flight feather morphology, which has important implications for the flight capacity of early feathered theropods such as Archaeopteryx and Microraptor. Our findings suggest that the fully modern avian flight feather, and possibly a modern capacity for powered flight, evolved crownward of Confuciusornis, long after the origin of asymmetrical flight feathers, and much later than previously recognized.

RevDate: 2014-12-19
CmpDate: 2015-01-15

Koschowitz MC, Lambertz M, Fischer C, et al (2014)

On the origin of feathers--response.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6216):1466-1467.

RevDate: 2014-12-19
CmpDate: 2015-01-15

Mayr G (2014)

On the origin of feathers.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6216):1466.

RevDate: 2018-04-07
CmpDate: 2015-08-18

Lovell PV, Wirthlin M, Wilhelm L, et al (2014)

Conserved syntenic clusters of protein coding genes are missing in birds.

Genome biology, 15(12):565.

BACKGROUND: Birds are one of the most highly successful and diverse groups of vertebrates, having evolved a number of distinct characteristics, including feathers and wings, a sturdy lightweight skeleton and unique respiratory and urinary/excretion systems. However, the genetic basis of these traits is poorly understood.

RESULTS: Using comparative genomics based on extensive searches of 60 avian genomes, we have found that birds lack approximately 274 protein coding genes that are present in the genomes of most vertebrate lineages and are for the most part organized in conserved syntenic clusters in non-avian sauropsids and in humans. These genes are located in regions associated with chromosomal rearrangements, and are largely present in crocodiles, suggesting that their loss occurred subsequent to the split of dinosaurs/birds from crocodilians. Many of these genes are associated with lethality in rodents, human genetic disorders, or biological functions targeting various tissues. Functional enrichment analysis combined with orthogroup analysis and paralog searches revealed enrichments that were shared by non-avian species, present only in birds, or shared between all species.

CONCLUSIONS: Together these results provide a clearer definition of the genetic background of extant birds, extend the findings of previous studies on missing avian genes, and provide clues about molecular events that shaped avian evolution. They also have implications for fields that largely benefit from avian studies, including development, immune system, oncogenesis, and brain function and cognition. With regards to the missing genes, birds can be considered ‘natural knockouts’ that may become invaluable model organisms for several human diseases.

RevDate: 2014-12-18
CmpDate: 2015-07-21

Ksepka DT (2014)

Evolution: a rapid flight towards birds.

Current biology : CB, 24(21):R1052-5.

Remarkable feathered dinosaur fossils have blurred the lines between early birds and their non-avian dinosaur relatives. Rapid skeletal evolution and decreasing body size along one particular lineage of theropod dinosaurs paved the way for the spectacular radiation of birds.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2014-12-23

Xu X, Zhou Z, Dudley R, et al (2014)

An integrative approach to understanding bird origins.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6215):1253293.

Recent discoveries of spectacular dinosaur fossils overwhelmingly support the hypothesis that birds are descended from maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs, and furthermore, demonstrate that distinctive bird characteristics such as feathers, flight, endothermic physiology, unique strategies for reproduction and growth, and a novel pulmonary system originated among Mesozoic terrestrial dinosaurs. The transition from ground-living to flight-capable theropod dinosaurs now probably represents one of the best-documented major evolutionary transitions in life history. Recent studies in developmental biology and other disciplines provide additional insights into how bird characteristics originated and evolved. The iconic features of extant birds for the most part evolved in a gradual and stepwise fashion throughout archosaur evolution. However, new data also highlight occasional bursts of morphological novelty at certain stages particularly close to the origin of birds and an unavoidable complex, mosaic evolutionary distribution of major bird characteristics on the theropod tree. Research into bird origins provides a premier example of how paleontological and neontological data can interact to reveal the complexity of major innovations, to answer key evolutionary questions, and to lead to new research directions. A better understanding of bird origins requires multifaceted and integrative approaches, yet fossils necessarily provide the final test of any evolutionary model.

RevDate: 2016-10-19
CmpDate: 2015-08-18

Lowe CB, Clarke JA, Baker AJ, et al (2015)

Feather development genes and associated regulatory innovation predate the origin of Dinosauria.

Molecular biology and evolution, 32(1):23-28.

The evolution of avian feathers has recently been illuminated by fossils and the identification of genes involved in feather patterning and morphogenesis. However, molecular studies have focused mainly on protein-coding genes. Using comparative genomics and more than 600,000 conserved regulatory elements, we show that patterns of genome evolution in the vicinity of feather genes are consistent with a major role for regulatory innovation in the evolution of feathers. Rates of innovation at feather regulatory elements exhibit an extended period of innovation with peaks in the ancestors of amniotes and archosaurs. We estimate that 86% of such regulatory elements and 100% of the nonkeratin feather gene set were present prior to the origin of Dinosauria. On the branch leading to modern birds, we detect a strong signal of regulatory innovation near insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP) 2 and IGFBP5, which have roles in body size reduction, and may represent a genomic signature for the miniaturization of dinosaurian body size preceding the origin of flight.

RevDate: 2017-10-31
CmpDate: 2016-01-22

Chen CF, Foley J, Tang PC, et al (2015)

Development, regeneration, and evolution of feathers.

Annual review of animal biosciences, 3:169-195.

The feather is a complex ectodermal organ with hierarchical branching patterns. It provides functions in endothermy, communication, and flight. Studies of feather growth, cycling, and health are of fundamental importance to avian biology and poultry science. In addition, feathers are an excellent model for morphogenesis studies because of their accessibility, and their distinct patterns can be used to assay the roles of specific molecular pathways. Here we review the progress in aspects of development, regeneration, and evolution during the past three decades. We cover the development of feather buds in chicken embryos, regenerative cycling of feather follicle stem cells, formation of barb branching patterns, emergence of intrafeather pigmentation patterns, interplay of hormones and feather growth, and the genetic identification of several feather variants. The discovery of feathered dinosaurs redefines the relationship between feathers and birds. Inspiration from biomaterials and flight research further fuels biomimetic potential of feathers as a multidisciplinary research focal point.

RevDate: 2014-10-24
CmpDate: 2014-11-11

Godefroit P, Sinitsa SM, Dhouailly D, et al (2014)

Response to Comment on "A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales".

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6208):434.

Lingham-Soliar questions our interpretation of integumentary structures in the Middle-Late Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur Kulindadromeus as feather-like appendages and alternatively proposes that the compound structures observed around the humerus and femur of Kulindadromeus are support fibers associated with badly degraded scales. We consider this hypothesis highly unlikely because of the taphonomy and morphology of the preserved structures.

RevDate: 2014-10-24
CmpDate: 2014-11-11

Lingham-Soliar T (2014)

Comment on "A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales".

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6208):434.

Godefroit et al. (Reports, 25 July 2014, p. 451) reported scales and feathers, including "basal plates," in an ornithischian dinosaur. Their arguments against the filaments being collagen fibers are not supported because of a fundamental misinterpretation of such structures and underestimation of their size. The parsimonious explanation is that the filaments are support fibers in association with badly degraded scales and that they do not represent early feather stages.

RevDate: 2014-12-19
CmpDate: 2014-11-11

Koschowitz MC, Fischer C, M Sander (2014)

Evolution. Beyond the rainbow.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 346(6208):416-418.

RevDate: 2015-08-04
CmpDate: 2015-04-22

Zheng X, O'Connor J, Wang X, et al (2014)

On the absence of sternal elements in Anchiornis (Paraves) and Sapeornis (Aves) and the complex early evolution of the avian sternum.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(38):13900-13905.

Anchiornis (Deinonychosauria: Troodontidae), the earliest known feathered dinosaur, and Sapeornis (Aves: Pygostylia), one of the basalmost Cretaceous birds, are both known from hundreds of specimens, although remarkably not one specimen preserves any sternal ossifications. We use histological analysis to confirm the absence of this element in adult specimens. Furthermore, the excellent preservation of soft-tissue structures in some specimens suggests that no chondrified sternum was present. Archaeopteryx, the oldest and most basal known bird, is known from only 10 specimens and the presence of a sternum is controversial; a chondrified sternum is widely considered to have been present. However, data from Anchiornis and Sapeornis suggest that a sternum may also have been completely absent in this important taxon, suggesting that the absence of a sternum could represent the plesiomorphic avian condition. Our discovery reveals an unexpected level of complexity in the early evolution of the avian sternum; the large amount of observable homoplasy is probably a direct result of the high degree of inherent developmental plasticity of the sternum compared with observations in other skeletal elements.

RevDate: 2014-08-20
CmpDate: 2015-04-21

Zhou Z (2014)

Dinosaur evolution: feathers up for selection.

Current biology : CB, 24(16):R751-3.

A new specimen of the early bird Archaeopteryx shows remarkable plumage preservation, including pennaceous leg feathers. But whether birds went through a four-winged stage, and in what exact functional context feathers evolved remains a matter of debate.

RevDate: 2014-10-24
CmpDate: 2014-08-08

Godefroit P, Sinitsa SM, Dhouailly D, et al (2014)

Dinosaur evolution. A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 345(6195):451-455.

Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous deposits from northeastern China have yielded varied theropod dinosaurs bearing feathers. Filamentous integumentary structures have also been described in ornithischian dinosaurs, but whether these filaments can be regarded as part of the evolutionary lineage toward feathers remains controversial. Here we describe a new basal neornithischian dinosaur from the Jurassic of Siberia with small scales around the distal hindlimb, larger imbricated scales around the tail, monofilaments around the head and the thorax, and more complex featherlike structures around the humerus, the femur, and the tibia. The discovery of these branched integumentary structures outside theropods suggests that featherlike structures coexisted with scales and were potentially widespread among the entire dinosaur clade; feathers may thus have been present in the earliest dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2014-07-16
CmpDate: 2015-12-14

Han G, Chiappe LM, Ji SA, et al (2014)

A new raptorial dinosaur with exceptionally long feathering provides insights into dromaeosaurid flight performance.

Nature communications, 5:4382 pii:ncomms5382.

Microraptorines are a group of predatory dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaurs with aerodynamic capacity. These close relatives of birds are essential for testing hypotheses explaining the origin and early evolution of avian flight. Here we describe a new 'four-winged' microraptorine, Changyuraptor yangi, from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China. With tail feathers that are nearly 30 cm long, roughly 30% the length of the skeleton, the new fossil possesses the longest known feathers for any non-avian dinosaur. Furthermore, it is the largest theropod with long, pennaceous feathers attached to the lower hind limbs (that is, 'hindwings'). The lengthy feathered tail of the new fossil provides insight into the flight performance of microraptorines and how they may have maintained aerial competency at larger body sizes. We demonstrate how the low-aspect-ratio tail of the new fossil would have acted as a pitch control structure reducing descent speed and thus playing a key role in landing.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2014-08-15

Foth C, Tischlinger H, OW Rauhut (2014)

New specimen of Archaeopteryx provides insights into the evolution of pennaceous feathers.

Nature, 511(7507):79-82.

Discoveries of bird-like theropod dinosaurs and basal avialans in recent decades have helped to put the iconic 'Urvogel' Archaeopteryx into context and have yielded important new data on the origin and early evolution of feathers. However, the biological context under which pennaceous feathers evolved is still debated. Here we describe a new specimen of Archaeopteryx with extensive feather preservation, not only on the wings and tail, but also on the body and legs. The new specimen shows that the entire body was covered in pennaceous feathers, and that the hindlimbs had long, symmetrical feathers along the tibiotarsus but short feathers on the tarsometatarsus. Furthermore, the wing plumage demonstrates that several recent interpretations are problematic. An analysis of the phylogenetic distribution of pennaceous feathers on the tail, hindlimb and arms of advanced maniraptorans and basal avialans strongly indicates that these structures evolved in a functional context other than flight, most probably in relation to display, as suggested by some previous studies. Pennaceous feathers thus represented an exaptation and were later, in several lineages and following different patterns, recruited for aerodynamic functions. This indicates that the origin of flight in avialans was more complex than previously thought and might have involved several convergent achievements of aerial abilities.

RevDate: 2014-06-09
CmpDate: 2015-10-22

Thomas DB, Nascimbene PC, Dove CJ, et al (2014)

Seeking carotenoid pigments in amber-preserved fossil feathers.

Scientific reports, 4:5226 pii:srep05226.

Plumage colours bestowed by carotenoid pigments can be important for visual communication and likely have a long evolutionary history within Aves. Discovering plumage carotenoids in fossil feathers could provide insight into the ecology of ancient birds and non-avian dinosaurs. With reference to a modern feather, we sought chemical evidence of carotenoids in six feathers preserved in amber (Miocene to mid-Cretaceous) and in a feather preserved as a compression fossil (Eocene). Evidence of melanin pigmentation and microstructure preservation was evaluated with scanning electron and light microscopies. We observed fine microstructural details including evidence for melanin pigmentation in the amber and compression fossils, but Raman spectral bands did not confirm the presence of carotenoids in them. Carotenoids may have been originally absent from these feathers or the pigments may have degraded during burial; the preservation of microstructure may suggest the former. Significantly, we show that carotenoid plumage pigments can be detected without sample destruction through an amber matrix using confocal Raman spectroscopy.

RevDate: 2017-02-24
CmpDate: 2015-05-28

Benson RB, Campione NE, Carrano MT, et al (2014)

Rates of dinosaur body mass evolution indicate 170 million years of sustained ecological innovation on the avian stem lineage.

PLoS biology, 12(5):e1001853 pii:PBIOLOGY-D-13-04090.

Large-scale adaptive radiations might explain the runaway success of a minority of extant vertebrate clades. This hypothesis predicts, among other things, rapid rates of morphological evolution during the early history of major groups, as lineages invade disparate ecological niches. However, few studies of adaptive radiation have included deep time data, so the links between extant diversity and major extinct radiations are unclear. The intensively studied Mesozoic dinosaur record provides a model system for such investigation, representing an ecologically diverse group that dominated terrestrial ecosystems for 170 million years. Furthermore, with 10,000 species, extant dinosaurs (birds) are the most speciose living tetrapod clade. We assembled composite trees of 614-622 Mesozoic dinosaurs/birds, and a comprehensive body mass dataset using the scaling relationship of limb bone robustness. Maximum-likelihood modelling and the node height test reveal rapid evolutionary rates and a predominance of rapid shifts among size classes in early (Triassic) dinosaurs. This indicates an early burst niche-filling pattern and contrasts with previous studies that favoured gradualistic rates. Subsequently, rates declined in most lineages, which rarely exploited new ecological niches. However, feathered maniraptoran dinosaurs (including Mesozoic birds) sustained rapid evolution from at least the Middle Jurassic, suggesting that these taxa evaded the effects of niche saturation. This indicates that a long evolutionary history of continuing ecological innovation paved the way for a second great radiation of dinosaurs, in birds. We therefore demonstrate links between the predominantly extinct deep time adaptive radiation of non-avian dinosaurs and the phenomenal diversification of birds, via continuing rapid rates of evolution along the phylogenetic stem lineage. This raises the possibility that the uneven distribution of biodiversity results not just from large-scale extrapolation of the process of adaptive radiation in a few extant clades, but also from the maintenance of evolvability on vast time scales across the history of life, in key lineages.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2015-01-23

Nudds RL (2014)

Reassessment of the wing feathers of Archaeopteryx lithographica suggests no robust evidence for the presence of elongated dorsal wing coverts.

PloS one, 9(4):e93963 pii:PONE-D-13-30638.

Recently it was proposed that the primary feathers of Archaeopteryx lithographica (HMN1880) were overlaid by long covert feathers, and that a multilayered feathered wing was a feature of early fossils with feathered forelimbs. The proposed long covert feathers of Archaeopteryx were previously interpreted as dorsally displaced remiges or a second set of impressions made by the wing. The following study shows that the qualitative arguments forwarded in support of the elongated covert hypothesis are neither robust nor supported quantitatively. The idea that the extant bird wing with its single layer of overlapping primaries evolved from an earlier multilayered heavily coveted feathered forelimb as seen in Anchiornis huxleyi is reasonable. At this juncture, however, it is premature to conclude unequivocally that the wing of Archaeopteryx consisted of primary feathers overlaid with elongated coverts.

RevDate: 2015-08-06
CmpDate: 2014-07-30

Zhou CF, Rabi M, WG Joyce (2014)

A new specimen of Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China and the phylogeny of Cretaceous basal eucryptodiran turtles.

BMC evolutionary biology, 14:77 pii:1471-2148-14-77.

BACKGROUND: Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is an emblematic turtle from the Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning, China, a geological rock unit that is famous for yielding perfectly preserved skeletons of fossil vertebrates, including that of feathered dinosaurs. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis was one of the first vertebrates described from this fauna, also known as the Jehol Biota. The holotype was lost during World War II and only one additional specimen has been described since. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is a critical taxon for unraveling the phylogenetic relationships of Cretaceous pancryptodires from Asia, a group that is considered to be of key importance for the origin of crown-group hidden-neck turtles (Cryptodira).

RESULTS: A new specimen of Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is described here from the Jiufotang Formation of Qilinshan, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China. This is the third specimen described and expands the range of this taxon from the Yixian Formation of the Fuxin-Yixian Basin in Liaoning to the Jiufotang Formation of the Chifeng-Yuanbaoshan Basin. A possible temporal extension of the range is less certain. The new finding adds to our understanding of the morphology of this taxon and invites a thorough revision of the phylogeny of Macrobaenidae, Sinemydidae, and closely allied forms.

CONCLUSIONS: Our comprehensive phylogenetic analyses of Cretaceous Asian pancryptodires yielded two main competing hypotheses: in the first these taxa form a paraphyletic grade, whereas in the second they form a monophyletic clade. The inclusion of problematic tree changing taxa, such as Panpleurodires (stem + crown side-neck turtles) has a major influence on the phylogenetic relationships of Sinemydidae and closely allied forms. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis nests within Sinemydidae together with Sinemys spp. and Dracochelys bicuspis in the majority of our analyses.

RevDate: 2014-04-07
CmpDate: 2014-06-05

Kowata K, Nakaoka M, Nishio K, et al (2014)

Identification of a feather β-keratin gene exclusively expressed in pennaceous barbule cells of contour feathers in chicken.

Gene, 542(1):23-28.

Feathers are elaborate skin appendages shared by birds and theropod dinosaurs that have hierarchical branching of the rachis, barbs, and barbules. Feather filaments consist of β-keratins encoded by multiple genes, most of which are located in tandem arrays on chromosomes 2, 25, and 27 in chicken. The expansion of the genes is thought to have contributed to feather evolution; however, it is unclear how the individual genes are involved in feather formation. The aim of the present study was to identify feather keratin genes involved in the formation of barbules. Using a combination of microarray analysis, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction, and in situ hybridization, we found an uncharacterized keratin gene on chromosome 7 that was expressed specifically in barbule cells in regenerating chicken feathers. We have named the gene barbule specific keratin 1 (BlSK1). The BlSK1 gene structure was similar to the gene structure of previously characterized feather keratin genes, and consisted of a non-coding leader exon, an intron, and an exon with an open reading frame (ORF). The ORF was predicted to encode a 98 aa long protein, which shared 59% identity with feather keratin B. Orthologs of BlSK1 were found in the genomes of other avian species, including turkey, duck, zebra finch, and flycatcher, in regions that shared synteny with chromosome 7 of chicken. Interestingly, BlSK1 was expressed in feather follicles that generated pennaceous barbules but not in follicles that generated plumulaceous barbules. These results suggested that the composition of feather keratins probably varies depending on the structure of the feather filaments and, that individual feather keratin genes may be involved in building different portions and/or types of feathers in chicken.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2015-10-09

Moyer AE, Zheng W, Johnson EA, et al (2014)

Melanosomes or microbes: testing an alternative hypothesis for the origin of microbodies in fossil feathers.

Scientific reports, 4:4233 pii:srep04233.

Microbodies associated with fossil feathers, originally attributed to microbial biofilm, have been reinterpreted as melanosomes: pigment-containing, eukaryotic organelles. This interpretation generated hypotheses regarding coloration in non-avian and avian dinosaurs. Because melanosomes and microbes overlap in size, distribution and morphology, we re-evaluate both hypotheses. We compare melanosomes within feathers of extant chickens with patterns induced by microbial overgrowth on the same feathers, using scanning (SEM), field emission (FESEM) and transmission (TEM) electron microscopy. Melanosomes are always internal, embedded in a morphologically distinct keratinous matrix. Conversely, microbes grow across the surface of feathers in continuous layers, more consistent with published images from fossil feathers. We compare our results to both published literature and new data from a fossil feather ascribed to Gansus yumenensis (ANSP 23403). 'Mouldic impressions' were observed in association with both the feather and sediment grains, supporting a microbial origin. We propose criteria for distinguishing between these two microbodies.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2014-04-08

Li Q, Clarke JA, Gao KQ, et al (2014)

Melanosome evolution indicates a key physiological shift within feathered dinosaurs.

Nature, 507(7492):350-353.

Inference of colour patterning in extinct dinosaurs has been based on the relationship between the morphology of melanin-containing organelles (melanosomes) and colour in extant bird feathers. When this relationship evolved relative to the origin of feathers and other novel integumentary structures, such as hair and filamentous body covering in extinct archosaurs, has not been evaluated. Here we sample melanosomes from the integument of 181 extant amniote taxa and 13 lizard, turtle, dinosaur and pterosaur fossils from the Upper-Jurassic and Lower-Cretaceous of China. We find that in the lineage leading to birds, the observed increase in the diversity of melanosome morphologies appears abruptly, near the origin of pinnate feathers in maniraptoran dinosaurs. Similarly, mammals show an increased diversity of melanosome form compared to all ectothermic amniotes. In these two clades, mammals and maniraptoran dinosaurs including birds, melanosome form and colour are linked and colour reconstruction may be possible. By contrast, melanosomes in lizard, turtle and crocodilian skin, as well as the archosaurian filamentous body coverings (dinosaur 'protofeathers' and pterosaur 'pycnofibres'), show a limited diversity of form that is uncorrelated with colour in extant taxa. These patterns may be explained by convergent changes in the key melanocortin system of mammals and birds, which is known to affect pleiotropically both melanin-based colouration and energetic processes such as metabolic rate in vertebrates, and may therefore support a significant physiological shift in maniraptoran dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2014-01-31

Chiappe LM, Zhao B, O'Connor JK, et al (2014)

A new specimen of the Early Cretaceous bird Hongshanornis longicresta: insights into the aerodynamics and diet of a basal ornithuromorph.

PeerJ, 2:e234 pii:234.

The discovery of Hongshanornis longicresta, a small ornithuromorph bird with unusually long hindlimb proportions, was followed by the discovery of two closely related species, Longicrusavis houi and Parahongshanornis chaoyangensis. Together forming the Hongshanornithidae, these species reveal important information about the early diversity and morphological specialization of ornithuromorphs, the clade that contains all living birds. Here we report on a new specimen (DNHM D2945/6) referable to Hongshanornis longicresta that contributes significant information to better understand the morphology, trophic ecology, and aerodynamics of this species, as well as the taxonomy of the Hongshanornithidae. Most notable are the well-preserved wings and feathered tail of DNHM D2945/6, which afford an accurate reconstruction of aerodynamic parameters indicating that as early as 125 million years ago, basal ornithuromorphs had evolved aerodynamic surfaces comparable in size and design to those of many modern birds, and flight modes alike to those of some small living birds.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2014-12-29

Puttick MN, Thomas GH, MJ Benton (2014)

High rates of evolution preceded the origin of birds.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 68(5):1497-1510.

The origin of birds (Aves) is one of the great evolutionary transitions. Fossils show that many unique morphological features of modern birds, such as feathers, reduction in body size, and the semilunate carpal, long preceded the origin of clade Aves, but some may be unique to Aves, such as relative elongation of the forelimb. We study the evolution of body size and forelimb length across the phylogeny of coelurosaurian theropods and Mesozoic Aves. Using recently developed phylogenetic comparative methods, we find an increase in rates of body size and body size dependent forelimb evolution leading to small body size relative to forelimb length in Paraves, the wider clade comprising Aves and Deinonychosauria. The high evolutionary rates arose primarily from a reduction in body size, as there were no increased rates of forelimb evolution. In line with a recent study, we find evidence that Aves appear to have a unique relationship between body size and forelimb dimensions. Traits associated with Aves evolved before their origin, at high rates, and support the notion that numerous lineages of paravians were experimenting with different modes of flight through the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous.

RevDate: 2018-03-22
CmpDate: 2014-12-29

Evangelista D, Cardona G, Guenther-Gleason E, et al (2014)

Aerodynamic characteristics of a feathered dinosaur measured using physical models. Effects of form on static stability and control effectiveness.

PloS one, 9(1):e85203 pii:PONE-D-13-23480.

We report the effects of posture and morphology on the static aerodynamic stability and control effectiveness of physical models based on the feathered dinosaur, [Formula: see text]Microraptor gui, from the Cretaceous of China. Postures had similar lift and drag coefficients and were broadly similar when simplified metrics of gliding were considered, but they exhibited different stability characteristics depending on the position of the legs and the presence of feathers on the legs and the tail. Both stability and the function of appendages in generating maneuvering forces and torques changed as the glide angle or angle of attack were changed. These are significant because they represent an aerial environment that may have shifted during the evolution of directed aerial descent and other aerial behaviors. Certain movements were particularly effective (symmetric movements of the wings and tail in pitch, asymmetric wing movements, some tail movements). Other appendages altered their function from creating yaws at high angle of attack to rolls at low angle of attack, or reversed their function entirely. While [Formula: see text]M. gui lived after [Formula: see text]Archaeopteryx and likely represents a side experiment with feathered morphology, the general patterns of stability and control effectiveness suggested from the manipulations of forelimb, hindlimb and tail morphology here may help understand the evolution of flight control aerodynamics in vertebrates. Though these results rest on a single specimen, as further fossils with different morphologies are tested, the findings here could be applied in a phylogenetic context to reveal biomechanical constraints on extinct flyers arising from the need to maneuver.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-11-26

Switek B (2013)

Palaeontology: The truth about T. rex.

Nature, 502(7472):424-426.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2014-04-21

Dyke G, de Kat R, Palmer C, et al (2013)

Aerodynamic performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor and the evolution of feathered flight.

Nature communications, 4:2489.

Understanding the aerodynamic performance of feathered, non-avialan dinosaurs is critical to reconstructing the evolution of bird flight. Here we show that the Early Cretaceous five-winged paravian Microraptor is most stable when gliding at high-lift coefficients (low lift/drag ratios). Wind tunnel experiments and flight simulations show that sustaining a high-lift coefficient at the expense of high drag would have been the most efficient strategy for Microraptor when gliding from, and between, low elevations. Analyses also demonstrate that anatomically plausible changes in wing configuration and leg position would have made little difference to aerodynamic performance. Significant to the evolution of flight, we show that Microraptor did not require a sophisticated, 'modern' wing morphology to undertake effective glides. This is congruent with the fossil record and also with the hypothesis that symmetric 'flight' feathers first evolved in dinosaurs for non-aerodynamic functions, later being adapted to form lifting surfaces.

RevDate: 2017-02-20

O'Connor JK, Chiappe LM, Chuong CM, et al (2012)

Homology and Potential Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms for the Development of Unique Feather Morphologies in Early Birds.

Geosciences, 2(3):157-177.

At least two lineages of Mesozoic birds are known to have possessed a distinct feather morphotype for which there is no neornithine (modern) equivalent. The early stepwise evolution of apparently modern feathers occurred within Maniraptora, basal to the avian transition, with asymmetrical pennaceous feathers suited for flight present in the most basal recognized avian, Archaeopteryx lithographica. The number of extinct primitive feather morphotypes recognized among non-avian dinosaurs continues to increase with new discoveries; some of these resemble feathers present in basal birds. As a result, feathers between phylogenetically widely separated taxa have been described as homologous. Here we examine the extinct feather morphotypes recognized within Aves and compare these structures with those found in non-avian dinosaurs. We conclude that the "rachis dominated" tail feathers of Confuciusornis sanctus and some enantiornithines are not equivalent to the "proximally ribbon-like" pennaceous feathers of the juvenile oviraptorosaur Similicaudipteryx yixianensis. Close morphological analysis of these unusual rectrices in basal birds supports the interpretation that they are modified pennaceous feathers. Because this feather morphotype is not seen in living birds, we build on current understanding of modern feather molecular morphogenesis to suggest a hypothetical molecular developmental model for the formation of the rachis dominated feathers of extinct basal birds.

RevDate: 2017-11-08
CmpDate: 2014-06-16

Ibrahim N, U Kutschera (2013)

The ornithologist Alfred Russel Wallace and the controversy surrounding the dinosaurian origin of birds.

Theory in biosciences = Theorie in den Biowissenschaften, 132(4):267-275.

Over many years of his life, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) explored the tropical forests of Malaysia, collecting numerous specimens, including hundreds of birds, many of them new to science. Subsequently, Wallace published a series of papers on systematic ornithology, and discovered a new species on top of a volcano on Ternate, where he wrote, in 1858, his famous essay on natural selection. Based on this hands-on experience, and an analysis of an Archaeopteryx fossil, Wallace suggested that birds may have descended from dinosaurian ancestors. Here, we describe the "dinosaur-bird hypothesis" that originated with the work of Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895). We present the strong evidence linking theropod dinosaurs to birds, and briefly outline the long and ongoing controversy around this concept. Dinosaurs preserving plumage, nesting sites and trace fossils provide overwhelming evidence for the dinosaurian origin of birds. Based on these recent findings of paleontological research, we conclude that extant birds indeed descended, with some modifications, from small, Mesozoic theropod dinosaurs. In the light of Wallace's view of bird origins, we critically evaluate recent opposing views to this idea, including Ernst Mayr's (1904-2005) arguments against the "dinosaur-bird hypothesis", and document that this famous ornithologist was not correct in his assessment of this important aspect of vertebrate evolution.

RevDate: 2013-08-12
CmpDate: 2014-01-23

Clarke A (2013)

Dinosaur energetics: setting the bounds on feasible physiologies and ecologies.

The American naturalist, 182(3):283-297.

The metabolic status of dinosaurs has long been debated but remains unresolved as no consistent picture has emerged from a range of anatomical and isotopic evidence. Quantitative analysis of dinosaur energetics, based on general principles applicable to all vertebrates, shows that many features of dinosaur lifestyle are compatible with a physiology similar to that of extant lizards, scaled up to dinosaur body masses and temperatures. The analysis suggests that sufficient metabolic scope would have been available to support observed dinosaur growth rates and allow considerable locomotor activity, perhaps even migration. Since at least one dinosaur lineage evolved true endothermy, this study emphasizes there was no single dinosaur physiology. Many small theropods were insulated with feathers and appear to have been partial or full endotherms. Uninsulated small taxa, and all juveniles, presumably would have been ectothermic, with consequent diurnal and seasonal variations in body temperature. In larger taxa, inertial homeothermy would have resulted in warm and stable body temperatures but with a basal metabolism significantly below that of extant mammals or birds of the same size. It would appear that dinosaurs exhibited a range of metabolic levels to match the broad spectrum of ecological niches they occupied.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-12-11

Balanoff AM, Bever GS, Rowe TB, et al (2013)

Evolutionary origins of the avian brain.

Nature, 501(7465):93-96.

Features that were once considered exclusive to modern birds, such as feathers and a furcula, are now known to have first appeared in non-avian dinosaurs. However, relatively little is known of the early evolutionary history of the hyperinflated brain that distinguishes birds from other living reptiles and provides the important neurological capablities required by flight. Here we use high-resolution computed tomography to estimate and compare cranial volumes of extant birds, the early avialan Archaeopteryx lithographica, and a number of non-avian maniraptoran dinosaurs that are phylogenetically close to the origins of both Avialae and avian flight. Previous work established that avian cerebral expansion began early in theropod history and that the cranial cavity of Archaeopteryx was volumetrically intermediate between these early forms and modern birds. Our new data indicate that the relative size of the cranial cavity of Archaeopteryx is reflective of a more generalized maniraptoran volumetric signature and in several instances is actually smaller than that of other non-avian dinosaurs. Thus, bird-like encephalization indices evolved multiple times, supporting the conclusion that if Archaeopteryx had the neurological capabilities required of flight, so did at least some other non-avian maniraptorans. This is congruent with recent findings that avialans were not unique among maniraptorans in their ability to fly in some form.

RevDate: 2013-07-29
CmpDate: 2013-12-23

Xing L, Persons WS, Bell PR, et al (2013)

Piscivory in the feathered dinosaur Microraptor.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 67(8):2441-2445.

The largest specimen of the four-winged dromaeosaurid dinosaur Microraptor gui includes preserved gut contents. Previous reports of gut contents and considerations of functional morphology have indicated that Microraptor hunted in an arboreal environment. The new specimen demonstrates that this was not strictly the case, and offers unique insights into the ecology of nonavian dinosaurs early in the evolution of flight. The preserved gut contents are composed of teleost fish remains. Several morphological adaptations of Microraptor are identified as consistent with a partially piscivorous diet, including dentition with reduced serrations and forward projecting teeth on the anterior of the dentary. The feeding habits of Microraptor can now be understood better than that of any other carnivorous nonavian dinosaur, and Microraptor appears to have been an opportunistic and generalist feeder, able to exploit the most common prey in both the arboreal and aquatic microhabitats of the Early Cretaceous Jehol ecosystem.

RevDate: 2013-06-07
CmpDate: 2013-06-12

Balter M (2013)

Paleontology. Authenticity of China's fabulous fossils gets new scrutiny.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 340(6137):1153-1154.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-07-11

Godefroit P, Cau A, Dong-Yu H, et al (2013)

A Jurassic avialan dinosaur from China resolves the early phylogenetic history of birds.

Nature, 498(7454):359-362.

The recent discovery of small paravian theropod dinosaurs with well-preserved feathers in the Middle-Late Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province (northeastern China) has challenged the pivotal position of Archaeopteryx, regarded from its discovery to be the most basal bird. Removing Archaeopteryx from the base of Avialae to nest within Deinonychosauria implies that typical bird flight, powered by the forelimbs only, either evolved at least twice, or was subsequently lost or modified in some deinonychosaurians. Here we describe the complete skeleton of a new paravian from the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province, China. Including this new taxon in a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis for basal Paraves does the following: (1) it recovers it as the basal-most avialan; (2) it confirms the avialan status of Archaeopteryx; (3) it places Troodontidae as the sister-group to Avialae; (4) it supports a single origin of powered flight within Paraves; and (5) it implies that the early diversification of Paraves and Avialae took place in the Middle-Late Jurassic period.

RevDate: 2017-08-09
CmpDate: 2014-01-07

Pittman M, Gatesy SM, Upchurch P, et al (2013)

Shake a tail feather: the evolution of the theropod tail into a stiff aerodynamic surface.

PloS one, 8(5):e63115 pii:PONE-D-12-16387.

Theropod dinosaurs show striking morphological and functional tail variation; e.g., a long, robust, basal theropod tail used for counterbalance, or a short, modern avian tail used as an aerodynamic surface. We used a quantitative morphological and functional analysis to reconstruct intervertebral joint stiffness in the tail along the theropod lineage to extant birds. This provides new details of the tail's morphological transformation, and for the first time quantitatively evaluates its biomechanical consequences. We observe that both dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness decreased along the non-avian theropod lineage (between nodes Theropoda and Paraves). Our results show how the tail structure of non-avian theropods was mechanically appropriate for holding itself up against gravity and maintaining passive balance. However, as dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness decreased, the tail may have become more effective for dynamically maintaining balance. This supports our hypothesis of a reduction of dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness in shorter tails. Along the avian theropod lineage (Avialae to crown group birds), dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness increased overall, which appears to contradict our null expectation. We infer that this departure in joint stiffness is specific to the tail's aerodynamic role and the functional constraints imposed by it. Increased dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness may have facilitated a gradually improved capacity to lift, depress, and swing the tail. The associated morphological changes should have resulted in a tail capable of producing larger muscular forces to utilise larger lift forces in flight. Improved joint mobility in neornithine birds potentially permitted an increase in the range of lift force vector orientations, which might have improved flight proficiency and manoeuvrability. The tail morphology of modern birds with tail fanning capabilities originated in early ornithuromorph birds. Hence, these capabilities should have been present in the early Cretaceous, with incipient tail-fanning capacity in the earliest pygostylian birds.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2014-02-18

Gao T, Shih C, Rasnitsyn AP, et al (2013)

Hoplitolyda duolunica gen. et sp. nov. (Insecta, Hymenoptera, Praesiricidae), the Hitherto largest sawfly from the Mesozoic of China.

PloS one, 8(5):e62420 pii:PONE-D-12-36730.

BACKGROUND: Large body size of an insect, in general, enhances its capability of predation, competition, and defense, resulting in better survivability and reproduction. Hymenopterans, most being phytophagous or parasitic, have a relatively small to medium body size, typically under 50.0 mm in body length.

PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Herein, we describe Hoplitolyda duolunica gen. et sp. nov., assigned to Praesiricidae, from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China. This new species is the largest fossil hymenopteran hitherto with body estimated >55.0 mm long and wing span >92.0 mm. H. duolunica is, to our knowledge, the only sawfly with Sc present in the hind wing but not in the forewing. Its Rs1 and M1 meeting each other at 145° angle represents an intermediate in the transition from "Y" to "T" shapes. Even though Hoplitolyda differs significantly from all previously described genera in two subfamilies of Praesricidae, we leave the new genus unplaced in existing subfamilies, pending discovery of material with more taxonomic structure.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Hoplitolyda has many unique and interesting characters which might have benefitted its competition, survival, and reproduction: large body size and head with robust and strong mandibles for defense and/or sexual selection, unique wing venation and setal arrangements for flight capability and mobility, dense hairs on body and legs for sensing and protection, etc. Considering the reported ferocious predators of feathered dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds, and mammals coexisting in the same eco-system, Hoplitolyda is an interesting case of "survival of the fittest" in facing its evolutionary challenges.

RevDate: 2013-05-10
CmpDate: 2013-05-21

Clarke J (2013)

Paleontology. Feathers before flight.

Science (New York, N.Y.), 340(6133):690-692.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-06-25

Allen V, Bates KT, Li Z, et al (2013)

Linking the evolution of body shape and locomotor biomechanics in bird-line archosaurs.

Nature, 497(7447):104-107.

Locomotion in living birds (Neornithes) has two remarkable features: feather-assisted flight, and the use of unusually crouched hindlimbs for bipedal support and movement. When and how these defining functional traits evolved remains controversial. However, the advent of computer modelling approaches and the discoveries of exceptionally preserved key specimens now make it possible to use quantitative data on whole-body morphology to address the biomechanics underlying this issue. Here we use digital body reconstructions to quantify evolutionary trends in locomotor biomechanics (whole-body proportions and centre-of-mass position) across the clade Archosauria. We use three-dimensional digital reconstruction to estimate body shape from skeletal dimensions for 17 archosaurs along the ancestral bird line, including the exceptionally preserved, feathered taxa Microraptor, Archaeopteryx, Pengornis and Yixianornis, which represent key stages in the evolution of the avian body plan. Rather than a discrete transition from more-upright postures in the basal-most birds (Avialae) and their immediate outgroup deinonychosauria, our results support hypotheses of a gradual, stepwise acquisition of more-crouched limb postures across much of theropod evolution, although we find evidence of an accelerated change within the clade Maniraptora (birds and their closest relatives, such as deinonychosaurs). In addition, whereas reduction of the tail is widely accepted to be the primary morphological factor correlated with centre-of-mass position and, hence, evolution of hindlimb posture, we instead find that enlargement of the pectoral limb and several associated trends have a much stronger influence. Intriguingly, our support for the onset of accelerated morpho-functional trends within Maniraptora is closely correlated with the evolution of flight. Because we find that the evolution of enlarged forelimbs is strongly linked, via whole-body centre of mass, to hindlimb function during terrestrial locomotion, we suggest that the evolution of avian flight is linked to anatomical novelties in the pelvic limb as well as the pectoral.

RevDate: 2018-03-21
CmpDate: 2013-09-30

Field DJ, D'Alba L, Vinther J, et al (2013)

Melanin concentration gradients in modern and fossil feathers.

PloS one, 8(3):e59451.

In birds and feathered non-avian dinosaurs, within-feather pigmentation patterns range from discrete spots and stripes to more subtle patterns, but the latter remain largely unstudied. A ∼55 million year old fossil contour feather with a dark distal tip grading into a lighter base was recovered from the Fur Formation in Denmark. SEM and synchrotron-based trace metal mapping confirmed that this gradient was caused by differential concentration of melanin. To assess the potential ecological and phylogenetic prevalence of this pattern, we evaluated 321 modern samples from 18 orders within Aves. We observed that the pattern was found most frequently in distantly related groups that share aquatic ecologies (e.g. waterfowl Anseriformes, penguins Sphenisciformes), suggesting a potential adaptive function with ancient origins.

RevDate: 2017-03-23
CmpDate: 2013-08-14

McNamara ME, Briggs DE, Orr PJ, et al (2013)

Experimental maturation of feathers: implications for reconstructions of fossil feather colour.

Biology letters, 9(3):20130184 pii:rsbl.2013.0184.

Fossil feathers often preserve evidence of melanosomes-micrometre-scale melanin-bearing organelles that have been used to infer original colours and patterns of the plumage of dinosaurs. Such reconstructions acknowledge that evidence from other colour-producing mechanisms is presently elusive and assume that melanosome geometry is not altered during fossilization. Here, we provide the first test of this assumption, using high pressure-high temperature autoclave experiments on modern feathers to simulate the effects of burial on feather colour. Our experiments show that melanosomes are retained despite loss of visual evidence of colour and complete degradation of other colour-producing structures (e.g. quasi-ordered arrays in barbs and the keratin cortex in barbules). Significantly, however, melanosome geometry and spatial distribution are altered by the effects of pressure and temperature. These results demonstrate that reconstructions of original plumage coloration in fossils where preserved features of melanosomes are affected by diagenesis should be treated with caution. Reconstructions of fossil feather colour require assessment of the extent of preservation of various colour-producing mechanisms, and, critically, the extent of alteration of melanosome geometry.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-03-26

Huang D, Nel A, Cai C, et al (2013)

Amphibious flies and paedomorphism in the Jurassic period.

Nature, 495(7439):94-97.

The species of the Strashilidae (strashilids) have been the most perplexing of fossil insects from the Jurassic period of Russia and China. They have been widely considered to be ectoparasites of pterosaurs or feathered dinosaurs, based on the putative presence of piercing and sucking mouthparts and hind tibio-basitarsal pincers purportedly used to fix onto the host's hairs or feathers. Both the supposed host and parasite occur in the Daohugou beds from the Middle Jurassic epoch of China (approximately 165 million years ago). Here we analyse the morphology of strashilids from the Daohugou beds, and reach markedly different conclusions; namely that strashilids are highly specialized flies (Diptera) bearing large membranous wings, with substantial sexual dimorphism of the hind legs and abdominal extensions. The idea that they belong to an extinct order is unsupported, and the lineage can be placed within the true flies. In terms of major morphological and inferred behavioural features, strashilids resemble the recent (extant) and relict members of the aquatic fly family Nymphomyiidae. Their ontogeny are distinguished by the persistence in adult males of larval abdominal respiratory gills, representing a unique case of paedomorphism among endopterygote insects. Adult strashilids were probably aquatic or amphibious, shedding their wings after emergence and mating in the water.

RevDate: 2017-02-20
CmpDate: 2013-06-20

Godefroit P, Demuynck H, Dyke G, et al (2013)

Reduced plumage and flight ability of a new Jurassic paravian theropod from China.

Nature communications, 4:1394.

Feathered theropods were diverse in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group of western Liaoning Province, China. Recently, anatomically distinct feathered taxa have been discovered in the older Middle-Late Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation in the same region. Phylogenetic hypotheses including these specimens have challenged the pivotal position of Archaeopteryx in bird phylogeny. Here we report a basal troodontid from the Tiaojishan Formation that resembles Anchiornis, also from Jianchang County (regarded as sister-taxa). The feathers of Eosinopteryx are less extensive on the limbs and tail than Anchiornis and other deinonychosaurians. With reduced plumage and short uncurved pedal claws, Eosinopteryx would have been able to run unimpeded (with large foot remiges cursorial locomotion was likely problematic for Anchiornis). Eosinopteryx increases the known diversity of small-bodied dinosaurs in the Jurassic, shows that taxa with similar body plans could occupy different niches in the same ecosystem and suggests a more complex picture for the origin of flight.

RevDate: 2015-11-19
CmpDate: 2013-06-10

Longrich NR, Vinther J, Meng Q, et al (2012)

Primitive wing feather arrangement in Archaeopteryx lithographica and Anchiornis huxleyi.

Current biology : CB, 22(23):2262-2267.

In modern birds (Neornithes), the wing is composed of a layer of long, asymmetrical flight feathers overlain by short covert feathers. It has generally been assumed that wing feathers in the Jurassic bird Archaeopteryx and Cretaceous feathered dinosaurs had the same arrangement. Here, we redescribe the wings of the archaic bird Archaeopteryx lithographica and the dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi and show that their wings differ from those of Neornithes in being composed of multiple layers of feathers. In Archaeopteryx, primaries are overlapped by long dorsal and ventral coverts. Anchiornis has a similar configuration but is more primitive in having short, slender, symmetrical remiges. Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis therefore appear to represent early experiments in the evolution of the wing. This primitive configuration has important functional implications: although the slender feather shafts of Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis make individual feathers weak, layering of the wing feathers may have produced a strong airfoil. Furthermore, the layered arrangement may have prevented the feathers from forming a slotted tip or separating to reduce drag on the upstroke. The wings of early birds therefore may have lacked the range of functions seen in Neornithes, limiting their flight ability.


RJR Experience and Expertise


Robbins holds BS, MS, and PhD degrees in the life sciences. He served as a tenured faculty member in the Zoology and Biological Science departments at Michigan State University. He is currently exploring the intersection between genomics, microbial ecology, and biodiversity — an area that promises to transform our understanding of the biosphere.


Robbins has extensive experience in college-level education: At MSU he taught introductory biology, genetics, and population genetics. At JHU, he was an instructor for a special course on biological database design. At FHCRC, he team-taught a graduate-level course on the history of genetics. At Bellevue College he taught medical informatics.


Robbins has been involved in science administration at both the federal and the institutional levels. At NSF he was a program officer for database activities in the life sciences, at DOE he was a program officer for information infrastructure in the human genome project. At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he served as a vice president for fifteen years.


Robbins has been involved with information technology since writing his first Fortran program as a college student. At NSF he was the first program officer for database activities in the life sciences. At JHU he held an appointment in the CS department and served as director of the informatics core for the Genome Data Base. At the FHCRC he was VP for Information Technology.


While still at Michigan State, Robbins started his first publishing venture, founding a small company that addressed the short-run publishing needs of instructors in very large undergraduate classes. For more than 20 years, Robbins has been operating The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, a web site dedicated to the digital publishing of critical works in science, especially classical genetics.


Robbins is well-known for his speaking abilities and is often called upon to provide keynote or plenary addresses at international meetings. For example, in July, 2012, he gave a well-received keynote address at the Global Biodiversity Informatics Congress, sponsored by GBIF and held in Copenhagen. The slides from that talk can be seen HERE.


Robbins is a skilled meeting facilitator. He prefers a participatory approach, with part of the meeting involving dynamic breakout groups, created by the participants in real time: (1) individuals propose breakout groups; (2) everyone signs up for one (or more) groups; (3) the groups with the most interested parties then meet, with reports from each group presented and discussed in a subsequent plenary session.


Robbins has been engaged with photography and design since the 1960s, when he worked for a professional photography laboratory. He now prefers digital photography and tools for their precision and reproducibility. He designed his first web site more than 20 years ago and he personally designed and implemented this web site. He engages in graphic design as a hobby.

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Feathered Dinosaurs

The whole idea of feathered dinosaurs seems odd, but the fossil evidence is clear: many dinosaurs were covered in feathers well before flight had been invented. Since all modern birds are the direct living descendents of dinosaurs, the next time you watch an arrogant starling strutting in your yard, think miniature T. rex. R. Robbins

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Collection of publications by R J Robbins

Reprints and preprints of publications, slide presentations, instructional materials, and data compilations written or prepared by Robert Robbins. Most papers deal with computational biology, genome informatics, using information technology to support biomedical research, and related matters.

Research Gate page for R J Robbins

ResearchGate is a social networking site for scientists and researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions, and find collaborators. According to a study by Nature and an article in Times Higher Education , it is the largest academic social network in terms of active users.

Curriculum Vitae for R J Robbins

short personal version

Curriculum Vitae for R J Robbins

long standard version

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