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24 Oct 2021 at 01:42
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Bibliography on: Feathered Dinosaurs


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RJR: Recommended Bibliography 24 Oct 2021 at 01:42 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: 2021-10-19

Pittman M, Barlow LA, Kaye TG, et al (2021)

Pterosaurs evolved a muscular wing-body junction providing multifaceted flight performance benefits: Advanced aerodynamic smoothing, sophisticated wing root control, and wing force generation.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(44):.

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrate flyers and lived for over 160 million years. However, aspects of their flight anatomy and flight performance remain unclear. Using laser-stimulated fluorescence, we observed direct soft tissue evidence of a wing root fairing in a pterosaur, a feature that smooths out the wing-body junction, reducing associated drag, as in modern aircraft and flying animals. Unlike bats and birds, the pterosaur wing root fairing was unique in being primarily made of muscle rather than fur or feathers. As a muscular feature, pterosaurs appear to have used their fairing to access further flight performance benefits through sophisticated control of their wing root and contributions to wing elevation and/or anterior wing motion during the flight stroke. This study underscores the value of using new instrumentation to fill knowledge gaps in pterosaur flight anatomy and evolution.

RevDate: 2021-09-17

Wang M, O'Connor JK, Zhao T, et al (2021)

An Early Cretaceous enantiornithine bird with a pintail.

Current biology : CB pii:S0960-9822(21)01158-1 [Epub ahead of print].

Enantiornithes are the most successful group of Mesozoic birds, arguably representing the first global avian radiation,1-4 and commonly resolved as the sister to the Ornithuromorpha, the clade within which all living birds are nested.1,3 The wealth of fossils makes it feasible to comparatively test evolutionary hypotheses about the pattern and mode of eco-morphological diversity of these sister clades that co-existed for approximately 65 Ma. Here, we report a new Early Cretaceous enantiornithine, Yuanchuavis kompsosoura gen. et. sp. nov., with a rectricial fan combined with an elongate central pair of fully pennaceous rachis-dominated plumes, constituting a new tail plumage previously unknown among nonavialan dinosaurs and Mesozoic birds but which strongly resembles the pintail in many neornithines. The extravagant but aerodynamically costly long central plumes, as an honest signal of quality, likely evolved in enantiornithines through the handicap process of sexual selection. The contrasting tail morphotypes observed between enantiornithines and early ornithuromorphs reflect the complex interplay between sexual and natural selections and indicate that each lineage experienced unique pressures reflecting ecological differences. As in neornithines, early avialans repeatedly evolved extravagant structures highlighting the importance of sexual selection in shaping the plumage of feathered dinosaurs, even early in their evolutionary history.

RevDate: 2021-07-19
CmpDate: 2021-07-19

Wang M, Stidham TA, Li Z, et al (2021)

Cretaceous bird with dinosaur skull sheds light on avian cranial evolution.

Nature communications, 12(1):3890.

The transformation of the bird skull from an ancestral akinetic, heavy, and toothed dinosaurian morphology to a highly derived, lightweight, edentulous, and kinetic skull is an innovation as significant as powered flight and feathers. Our understanding of evolutionary assembly of the modern form and function of avian cranium has been impeded by the rarity of early bird fossils with well-preserved skulls. Here, we describe a new enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous of China that preserves a nearly complete skull including the palatal elements, exposing the components of cranial kinesis. Our three-dimensional reconstruction of the entire enantiornithine skull demonstrates that this bird has an akinetic skull indicated by the unexpected retention of the plesiomorphic dinosaurian palate and diapsid temporal configurations, capped with a derived avialan rostrum and cranial roof, highlighting the highly modular and mosaic evolution of the avialan skull.

RevDate: 2021-04-27

Pittman M, Habib MB, Dececchi TA, et al (2021)

Response to Serrano and Chiappe.

Current biology : CB, 31(8):R372-R373.

In the recent study in Current Biology by Pei and colleagues1, we used two proxies - wing loading and specific lift - to reconstruct powered flight potential across the vaned feathered fossil pennaraptorans. The results recovered multiple origins of powered flight. We respectfully disagree with the criticism raised by Serrano and Chiappe2 that wing loading and specific lift, used in sequence, fail to discriminate between powered flight and gliding. We will explain this in reference to our original conservative approach.

RevDate: 2021-04-27

Serrano FJ, LM Chiappe (2021)

Independent origins of powered flight in paravian dinosaurs?.

Current biology : CB, 31(8):R370-R372.

Feathered dinosaurs discovered during the last decades have illuminated the transition from land to air in these animals, underscoring a significant degree of experimentation in wing-assisted locomotion around the origin of birds. Such evolutionary experimentation led to lineages achieving either wing-assisted running, four-winged gliding, or membrane-winged gliding. Birds are widely accepted as the only dinosaur lineage that achieved powered flight, a key innovation for their evolutionary success. However, in a recent paper in Current Biology, Pei and colleagues1 disputed this view. They concluded that three other lineages of paravian dinosaurs (those more closely related to birds than to oviraptorosaurs) - Unenlagiinae, Microraptorinae and Anchiornithinae - could have evolved powered flight independently. While we praise the detailed phylogenetic framework of Pei and colleagues1 and welcome a new attempt to understand the onset of flight in dinosaurs, we here expose a set of arguments that significantly weaken their evidence supporting a multiple origin of powered flight. Specifically, we maintain that the two proxies used by Pei and colleagues1 to assess powered flight potential in non-avian paravians - wing loading and specific lift - fail to discriminate between powered flight (thrust generated by flapping) and passive flight (gliding).

RevDate: 2021-03-22
CmpDate: 2021-03-10

Grimaldi DA, IM Vea (2021)

Insects with 100 million-year-old dinosaur feathers are not ectoparasites.

Nature communications, 12(1):1469.

RevDate: 2021-08-24

Vinther J, Nicholls R, DA Kelly (2021)

A cloacal opening in a non-avian dinosaur.

Current biology : CB, 31(4):R182-R183.

The Frankfurt specimen of Psittacosaurus sp. (SMF R 4970) from the Early Cretaceous Jehol deposits of Liaoning (Figure S1) exhibits exceptional preservation of scale-clad integument1. Preservation of colour patterns and countershading allowed a detailed reconstruction of this individual's physical appearance. It was previously noted that the cloacal region was preserved2, but its detailed anatomy was incorrectly reconstructed. We show here that the fine anatomy of the vent is remarkably well preserved and can be retrodeformed to illustrate its three-dimensional nature. The vent's scale anatomy and pigmentation are distinct from adjacent body regions, and although its anatomy does not reveal much information about the ecology, or sex, of this dinosaur, it suggests possible roles for visual and olfactory signalling.

RevDate: 2021-08-03
CmpDate: 2021-06-29

Kaye TG, Pittman M, WR Wahl (2020)

Archaeopteryx feather sheaths reveal sequential center-out flight-related molting strategy.

Communications biology, 3(1):745.

Modern flying birds molt to replace old and worn feathers that inhibit flight performance, but its origins are unclear. We address this by presenting and evaluating a ~150 million year old record of molting in a feathered dinosaur from the early bird Archaeopteryx. Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence revealed feather sheaths that are otherwise invisible under white light. These are separated by one feather and are not in numerical sequential order and are mirrored in both wings. This indicates that a sequential center-out molting strategy was already present at the origins of flight, which is used in living falcons to preserve maximum flight performance. This strategy would have been a welcome advantage for early theropod flyers that had poor flight capabilities. This discovery provides important insights into how birds refined their early flight capabilities before the appearance of the keeled sternum, pygostyle and triosseal canal.

RevDate: 2021-08-30
CmpDate: 2021-08-30

Ksepka DT (2020)

Feathered dinosaurs.

Current biology : CB, 30(22):R1347-R1353.

Feathers are the most complex integumentary structures in the animal world. They come in a variety of forms, the most familiar of which are remiges (flight feathers). Flight feathers are composed of a central shaft made up of a hollow calamus (quill), which is inserted into the skin, and a more distal rachis. Hundreds of parallel barbs branch from the sides of the rachis. In turn, smaller hooked barbules branch off the barbs, allowing them to interlock in a tight zipper-like fashion to form vanes. Variations in rachis, barb and barbule morphology result in other feather types such as contour feathers, bristles and down feathers. Feathers have a remarkable array of functions - they form airfoils and elaborate display structures, they serve to camouflage and insulate, to generate and help detect sound, and even to disintegrate into powder to condition other feathers.

RevDate: 2020-11-23
CmpDate: 2020-11-23

Álvarez-Parra S, Delclòs X, Solórzano-Kraemer MM, et al (2020)

Cretaceous amniote integuments recorded through a taphonomic process unique to resins.

Scientific reports, 10(1):19840.

Fossil records of vertebrate integuments are relatively common in both rocks, as compressions, and amber, as inclusions. The integument remains, mainly the Mesozoic ones, are of great interest due to the panoply of palaeobiological information they can provide. We describe two Spanish Cretaceous amber pieces that are of taphonomic importance, one bearing avian dinosaur feather remains and the other, mammalian hair. The preserved feather remains originated from an avian dinosaur resting in contact with a stalactite-shaped resin emission for the time it took for the fresh resin to harden. The second piece shows three hair strands recorded on a surface of desiccation, with the characteristic scale pattern exceptionally well preserved and the strands aligned together, which can be considered the record of a tuft. These assemblages were recorded through a rare biostratinomic process we call "pull off vestiture" that is different from the typical resin entrapment and embedding of organisms and biological remains, and unique to resins. The peculiarity of this process is supported by actualistic observations using sticky traps in Madagascar. Lastly, we reinterpret some exceptional records from the literature in the light of that process, thus bringing new insight to the taphonomic and palaeoecological understanding of the circumstances of their origins.

RevDate: 2020-10-29
CmpDate: 2020-10-29

Carney RM, Tischlinger H, MD Shawkey (2020)

Evidence corroborates identity of isolated fossil feather as a wing covert of Archaeopteryx.

Scientific reports, 10(1):15593.

The historic fossil feather from the Jurassic Solnhofen has played a pivotal but controversial role in our evolutionary understanding of dinosaurs and birds. Recently, a study confirmed the diagnostic morphology of the feather's original calamus, but nonetheless challenged the proposed identity as an Archaeopteryx covert. However, there are errors in the results and interpretations presented. Here we show that the feather is most likely an upper major primary covert, based on its long calamus (23.3% total length) and eight other anatomical attributes. Critically, this hypothesis is independently supported by evidence of similar primary coverts in multiple specimens of Archaeopteryx-including from the same fossil site and horizon as the isolated feather. We also provide additional insights, such as an updated colour reconstruction of the entire feather as matte black, with 90% probability. Given the isolated nature of the fossil feather, we can never know the anatomical and taxonomic provenance with 100% certainty. However, based on all available evidence, the most empirical and parsimonious conclusion is that this feather represents a primary covert from the ancient wing of Archaeopteryx.

RevDate: 2021-05-19
CmpDate: 2021-01-11

Yang Z, Jiang B, McNamara ME, et al (2020)

Reply to: No protofeathers on pterosaurs.

Nature ecology & evolution, 4(12):1592-1593.

RevDate: 2021-05-19
CmpDate: 2021-01-11

Unwin DM, DM Martill (2020)

No protofeathers on pterosaurs.

Nature ecology & evolution, 4(12):1590-1591.

RevDate: 2021-05-25
CmpDate: 2021-05-25

Klingler JJ (2020)

The evolution of the pectoral extrinsic appendicular and infrahyoid musculature in theropods and its functional and behavioral importance.

Journal of anatomy, 237(5):870-889.

Birds have lost and modified the musculature joining the pectoral girdle to the skull and hyoid, called the pectoral extrinsic appendicular and infrahyoid musculature. These muscles include the levator scapulae, sternomandibularis, sternohyoideus, episternocleidomastoideus, trapezius, and omohyoideus. As non-avian theropod dinosaurs are the closest relatives to birds, it is worth investigating what conditions they may have exhibited to learn when and how these muscles were lost or modified. Using extant phylogenetic bracketing, osteological correlates and non-osteological influences of these muscles are identified and discussed. Compsognathids and basal Maniraptoriformes were found to have been the likeliest transition points of a derived avian condition of losing or modifying these muscles. Increasing needs to control the feather tracts of the neck and shoulder, for insulation, display, or tightening/readjustment of the skin after dynamic neck movements may have been the selective force that drove some of these muscles to be modified into dermo-osseous muscles. The loss and modification of shoulder protractors created a more immobile girdle that would later be advantageous for flight in birds. The loss of the infrahyoid muscles freed the hyolarynx, trachea, and esophagus which may have aided in vocal tract filtering.

RevDate: 2021-08-12
CmpDate: 2021-08-12

Pei R, Pittman M, Goloboff PA, et al (2020)

Potential for Powered Flight Neared by Most Close Avialan Relatives, but Few Crossed Its Thresholds.

Current biology : CB, 30(20):4033-4046.e8.

Uncertainties in the phylogeny of birds (Avialae) and their closest relatives have impeded deeper understanding of early theropod flight. To help address this, we produced an updated evolutionary hypothesis through an automated analysis of the Theropod Working Group (TWiG) coelurosaurian phylogenetic data matrix. Our larger, more resolved, and better-evaluated TWiG-based hypothesis supports the grouping of dromaeosaurids + troodontids (Deinonychosauria) as the sister taxon to birds (Paraves) and the recovery of Anchiornithinae as the earliest diverging birds. Although the phylogeny will continue developing, our current results provide a pertinent opportunity to evaluate what we know about early theropod flight. With our results and available data for vaned feathered pennaraptorans, we estimate the potential for powered flight among early birds and their closest relatives. We did this by using an ancestral state reconstruction analysis calculating maximum and minimum estimates of two proxies of powered flight potential-wing loading and specific lift. These results confirm powered flight potential in early birds but its rarity among the ancestors of the closest avialan relatives (select unenlagiine and microraptorine dromaeosaurids). For the first time, we find a broad range of these ancestors neared the wing loading and specific lift thresholds indicative of powered flight potential. This suggests there was greater experimentation with wing-assisted locomotion before theropod flight evolved than previously appreciated. This study adds invaluable support for multiple origins of powered flight potential in theropods (≥3 times), which we now know was from ancestors already nearing associated thresholds, and provides a framework for its further study. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

RevDate: 2021-08-09
CmpDate: 2021-08-09

Kiat Y, Balaban A, Sapir N, et al (2020)

Sequential Molt in a Feathered Dinosaur and Implications for Early Paravian Ecology and Locomotion.

Current biology : CB, 30(18):3633-3638.e2.

Feather molt is an important life-history process in birds, but little is known about its evolutionary history. Here, we report on the first fossilized evidence of sequential wing feather molt, a common strategy among extant birds, identified in the Early Cretaceous four-winged dromaeosaurid Microraptor. Analysis of wing feather molt patterns and ecological properties in extant birds imply that Microraptor maintained its flight ability throughout the entire annual cycle, including the molt period. Therefore, we conclude that flight was essential for either its daily foraging or escaping from predators. Our findings propose that the development of sequential molt is the outcome of evolutionary forces to maintain flight capability throughout the entire annual cycle in both extant birds and non-avialan paravian dinosaurs from 120 mya. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

RevDate: 2021-04-09
CmpDate: 2021-04-09

Jagadeesan Y, Meenakshisundaram S, Saravanan V, et al (2020)

Sustainable production, biochemical and molecular characterization of thermo-and-solvent stable alkaline serine keratinase from novel Bacillus pumilus AR57 for promising poultry solid waste management.

International journal of biological macromolecules, 163:135-146.

The increasing amount of recalcitrant keratinous wastes generated from the poultry industry poses a serious threat to the environment. Keratinase have gained much attention to convert these wastes into valuable products. Ever since primitive feathers first appeared on dinosaurs, microorganisms have evolved to degrade this most recalcitrant keratin. In this study, we identified a promising keratinolytic bacterial strain for bioconversion of poultry solid wastes. A true keratinolytic bacterium was isolated from the slaughterhouse soil and was identified and designated as Bacillus pumilus AR57 by 16S rRNA sequencing. For enhanced keratinase production and rapid keratin degradation, the media components and substrate concentration were optimized through shake flask culture. White chicken feather (1% w/v) was found to be the good substrate concentration for high keratinase production when supplemented with simple medium ingredients. The biochemical characterization reveals astounding results which makes the B. pumilus AR57 keratinase as a novel and unique protease. Optimum activity of the crude enzyme was exhibited at pH 9 and 45 °C. The crude extracellular keratinase was characterized as thermo-and-solvent (DMSO) stable serine keratinase. Bacillus pumilus AR57 showed complete degradation (100%) of white chicken feather (1% w/v) within 18 h when incubated in modified minimal medium supplemented with DMSO (1% v/v) at 150 rpm at 37 °C. Keratinase from modified minimal medium supplemented with DMSO exhibits a half-life of 4 days. Whereas, keratinase from the modified minimal medium fortified with white chicken feather (1% w/v) was stable for 3 h only. Feather meal produced by B. pumilus AR57 was found to be rich in essential amino acids. Hence, we proposed B. pumilus AR57 as a potential candidate for the future application in eco-friendly bioconversion of poultry waste and the keratinase could play a pivotal role in the detergent industry. While feather meal may serve as an alternative to produce animal feed and biofertilizers.

RevDate: 2021-07-23
CmpDate: 2021-07-23

Wang S, Chang WL, Zhang Q, et al (2020)

Variations of Mesozoic feathers: Insights from the morphogenesis of extant feather rachises.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 74(9):2121-2133.

The rachises of extant feathers, composed of dense cortex and spongy internal medulla, are flexible and light, yet stiff enough to withstand the load required for flight, among other functions. Incomplete knowledge of early feathers prevents a full understanding of how cylindrical rachises have evolved. Bizarre feathers with unusually wide and flattened rachises, known as "rachis-dominated feathers" (RDFs), have been observed in fossil nonavian and avian theropods. Newly discovered RDFs embedded in early Late Cretaceous Burmese ambers (about 99 million year ago) suggest the unusually wide and flattened rachises mainly consist of a dorsal cortex, lacking a medulla and a ventral cortex. Coupled with findings on extant feather morphogenesis, known fossil RDFs were categorized into three morphotypes based on their rachidial configurations. For each morphotype, potential developmental scenarios were depicted by referring to the rachidial development in chickens, and relative stiffness of each morphotype was estimated through functional simulations. The results suggest rachises of RDFs are developmentally equivalent to a variety of immature stages of cylindrical rachises. Similar rachidial morphotypes documented in extant penguins suggest that the RDFs are not unique to Mesozoic theropods, although they are likely to have evolved independently in extant penguins.

RevDate: 2021-03-26
CmpDate: 2020-11-25

Jasinski SE, Sullivan RM, P Dodson (2020)

New Dromaeosaurid Dinosaur (Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from New Mexico and Biodiversity of Dromaeosaurids at the end of the Cretaceous.

Scientific reports, 10(1):5105.

Dromaeosaurids (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae), a group of dynamic, swift predators, have a sparse fossil record, particularly at the time of their extinction near the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Here we report on a new dromaeosaurid, Dineobellator notohesperus, gen. and sp. nov., consisting of a partial skeleton from the Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of New Mexico, the first diagnostic dromaeosaurid to be recovered from the latest Cretaceous of the southern United States (southern Laramidia). The holotype includes elements of the skull, axial, and appendicular skeleton. The specimen reveals a host of morphologies that shed light on new behavioral attributes for these feathered dinosaurs. Unique features on its forelimbs suggest greater strength capabilities in flexion than the normal dromaeosaurid condition, in conjunction with a relatively tighter grip strength in the manual claws. Aspects of the caudal vertebrae suggest greater movement near the tail base, aiding in agility and predation. Phylogenetic analysis places Dineobellator within Velociraptorinae. Its phylogenetic position, along with that of other Maastrichtian taxa (Acheroraptor and Dakotaraptor), suggests dromaeosaurids were still diversifying at the end of the Cretaceous. Furthermore, its recovery as a second North American Maastrichtian velociraptorine suggests vicariance of North American velociraptorines after a dispersal event during the Campanian-Maastrichtian from Asia. Features of Dineobellator also imply that dromaeosaurids were active predators that occupied discrete ecological niches while living in the shadow of Tyrannosaurus rex, until the end of the dinosaurs' reign.

RevDate: 2021-04-02
CmpDate: 2021-04-02

Voegele KK, Ullmann PV, Lamanna MC, et al (2020)

Appendicular myological reconstruction of the forelimb of the giant titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur Dreadnoughtus schrani.

Journal of anatomy, 237(1):133-154.

Soft tissues are variably preserved in the fossil record with external tissues, such as skin and feathers, more frequently preserved than internal tissues (e.g. muscles). More commonly, soft tissues leave traces of their locations on bones and, for muscles, these clues can be used to reconstruct the musculature of extinct vertebrates, thereby enhancing our understanding of how these organisms moved and the evolution of their locomotor patterns. Herein we reconstruct the forelimb and shoulder girdle musculature of the giant titanosaurian sauropod Dreadnoughtus schrani based on observations of osteological correlates and dissections of taxa comprising the Extant Phylogenetic Bracket of non-avian dinosaurs (crocodilians and birds). Fossils of Dreadnoughtus exhibit remarkably well-preserved, well-developed, and extensive muscle scars. Furthermore, this taxon is significantly larger-bodied than any titanosaurian for which a myological reconstruction has previously been attempted, rendering this myological study highly informative for the clade. In total, 28 muscles were investigated in this study, for which 46 osteological correlates were identified; these osteological correlates allowed the reconstruction of 16 muscles on the basis of Level I or Level II inferences (i.e. not Level I' or Level II' inferences). Comparisons with other titanosaurians suggest widespread myological variation in the clade, although potential phylogenetic patterns are often obscured by fragmentary preservation, infrequent myological studies, and lack of consensus on the systematic position of many taxa. By identifying myological variations within the clade, we can begin to address specific evolutionary and biomechanical questions related to the locomotor evolution in these sauropods.

RevDate: 2021-02-08
CmpDate: 2021-02-08

Poust AW, Gao C, Varricchio DJ, et al (2020)

A new microraptorine theropod from the Jehol Biota and growth in early dromaeosaurids.

Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 303(4):963-987.

Fossils from the Jehol Group (Early Cretaceous, Liaoning Province, China) are integral to our understanding of Paraves, the clade of dinosaurs grouping dromaeosaurids, troodontids, and avialians, including living birds. However, many taxa are represented by specimens of unclear ontogenetic age. Without a more thorough understanding of ontogeny, evolutionary relationships and significance of character states within paravian dinosaurs may be obscured and our ability to infer their biology restricted. We describe a complete specimen of a new microraptorine dromaeosaur, Wulong bohaiensis gen. et sp. nov., from the geologically young Jiufotang Formation (Aptian) that helps solve this problem. Phylogenetic analysis recovers the specimen within a monophyletic Microraptorinae. Preserved in articulation on a single slab, the type specimen is small and exhibits osteological markers of immaturity identified in other archosaurs, such as bone texture and lack of fusion. To contextualize this signal, we histologically sampled the tibia, fibula, and humerus and compared them with new samples from the closely related and osteologically mature Sinornithosaurus. Histology shows both specimens to be young and still growing at death, indicating an age for the new dinosaur of about 1 year. The holotype possesses several feather types, including filamentous feathers, pennaceous primaries, and long rectrices, establishing that their growth preceded skeletal maturity and full adult size in some dromaeosaurids. Comparison of histology in the new taxon and Sinornithosaurus indicates that macroscopic signs of maturity developed after the first year, but before cessation of growth, demonstrating that nonhistological indicators of adulthood may be misleading when applied to dromaeosaurids. Anat Rec, 303:963-987, 2020. © 2020 American Association for Anatomy.

RevDate: 2020-09-17
CmpDate: 2020-09-17

Rezende EL, Bacigalupe LD, Nespolo RF, et al (2020)

Shrinking dinosaurs and the evolution of endothermy in birds.

Science advances, 6(1):eaaw4486.

The evolution of endothermy represents a major transition in vertebrate history, yet how and why endothermy evolved in birds and mammals remains controversial. Here, we combine a heat transfer model with theropod body size data to reconstruct the evolution of metabolic rates along the bird stem lineage. Results suggest that a reduction in size constitutes the path of least resistance for endothermy to evolve, maximizing thermal niche expansion while obviating the costs of elevated energy requirements. In this scenario, metabolism would have increased with the miniaturization observed in the Early-Middle Jurassic (~180 to 170 million years ago), resulting in a gradient of metabolic levels in the theropod phylogeny. Whereas basal theropods would exhibit lower metabolic rates, more recent nonavian lineages were likely decent thermoregulators with elevated metabolism. These analyses provide a tentative temporal sequence of the key evolutionary transitions that resulted in the emergence of small, endothermic, feathered flying dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2021-02-08
CmpDate: 2021-02-08

Chiappe LM, Di L, Serrano FJ, et al (2020)

Anatomy and Flight Performance of the Early Enantiornithine Bird Protopteryx fengningensis: Information from New Specimens of the Early Cretaceous Huajiying Formation of China.

Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 303(4):716-731.

The Early Cretaceous (∼131 Million Years Ago) Protopteryx fengningensis is one of the oldest and most primitive enantiornithine birds; however, knowledge of its anatomy has largely been limited to the succinct description of two specimens (holotype and paratype). This study describes two new specimens of P. fengningensis preserving most of the skeleton and plumage, and it therefore adds significantly to understanding the morphology of this important species and the character evolution of enantiornithine birds. The well-preserved plumage of these specimens also affords a quantitative assessment of the flight performance of P. fengningensis. Our aerodynamic considerations indicate that this early enantiornithine was capable of intermittent flight (bounding or flap-gliding), thus marking the earliest occurrence of such energy-saving aerial strategy. Anat Rec, 303:716-731, 2020. © 2019 American Association for Anatomy.

RevDate: 2021-03-09
CmpDate: 2020-02-25

Gao T, Yin X, Shih C, et al (2019)

New insects feeding on dinosaur feathers in mid-Cretaceous amber.

Nature communications, 10(1):5424.

Due to a lack of Mesozoic fossil records, the origins and early evolution of feather-feeding behaviors by insects are obscure. Here, we report ten nymph specimens of a new lineage of insect, Mesophthirus engeli gen et. sp. nov. within Mesophthiridae fam. nov. from the mid-Cretaceous (ca. 100 Mya) Myanmar (Burmese) amber. This new insect clade shows a series of ectoparasitic morphological characters such as tiny wingless body, head with strong chewing mouthparts, robust and short antennae having long setae, legs with only one single tarsal claw associated with two additional long setae, etc. Most significantly, these insects are preserved with partially damaged dinosaur feathers, the damage of which was probably made by these insects' integument-feeding behaviors. This finding demonstrates that feather-feeding behaviors of insects originated at least in mid-Cretaceous, accompanying the radiation of feathered dinosaurs including early birds.

RevDate: 2020-12-01
CmpDate: 2019-12-12

Wang X, Tang HK, JA Clarke (2019)

Flight, symmetry and barb angle evolution in the feathers of birds and other dinosaurs.

Biology letters, 15(12):20190622.

There has been much discussion over whether basal birds (e.g. Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis) exhibited active flight. A recent study of barb angles has suggested they likely could not but instead may have exhibited a gliding phase. Pennaceous primary flight feathers were proposed to show significant shifts in barb angle values of relevance to the inference of flight in these extinct taxa. However, evolutionary trends in the evolution of these barb angle traits in extant volant taxa were not analysed in a phylogenetic frame. Neither the ancestral crown avian condition nor the condition in outgroup dinosaurs with symmetrical feathers were assessed. Here, we expand the fossil sample and reanalyse these data in a phylogenetic frame. We show that extant taxa, including strong flyers (e.g. some songbirds), show convergence on trailing barb angles and barb angle asymmetry observed in Mesozoic taxa that were proposed not to be active fliers. Trailing barb angles in these Mesozoic taxa are similar to symmetrical feathers in outgroup dinosaurs, indicating that selective regimes acted to modify primarily the leading-edge barb angles. These trends inform dynamics in feather shape evolution and challenge the notion that barb angle and barb angle ratios in extant birds directly inform the reconstruction of function in extinct stem taxa.

RevDate: 2021-01-10
CmpDate: 2020-05-20

Carroll NR, Chiappe LM, DJ Bottjer (2019)

Mid-Cretaceous amber inclusions reveal morphogenesis of extinct rachis-dominated feathers.

Scientific reports, 9(1):18108.

We describe three-dimensionally preserved feathers in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber that share macro-morphological similarities (e.g., proportionally wide rachis with a "medial stripe") with lithic, two-dimensionally preserved rachis-dominated feathers, first recognized in the Jehol Biota. These feathers in amber reveal a unique ventrally concave and dorsoventrally thin rachis, and a dorsal groove (sometimes pigmented) that we identify as the "medial stripe" visible in many rachis-dominated rectrices of Mesozoic birds. The distally pennaceous portion of these feathers shows differentiated proximal and distal barbules, the latter with hooklets forming interlocking barbs. Micro-CT scans and transverse sections demonstrate the absence of histodifferentiated cortex and medullary pith of the rachis and barb rami. The highly differentiated barbules combined with the lack of obvious histodifferentiation of the barb rami or rachis suggests that these feathers could have been formed without the full suite and developmental interplay of intermediate filament alpha keratins and corneous beta-proteins that is employed in the cornification process of modern feathers. This study thus highlights how the development of these feathers might have differed from that of their modern counterparts, namely in the morphogenesis of the ventral components of the rachis and barb rami. We suggest that the concave ventral surface of the rachis of these Cretaceous feathers is not homologous with the ventral groove of modern rachises. Our study of these Burmese feathers also confirms previous claims, based on two-dimensional fossils, that they correspond to an extinct morphotype and it cautions about the common practice of extrapolating developmental aspects (and mechanical attributes) of modern feathers to those of stem birds (and their dinosaurian outgroups) because the latter need not to have developed through identical pathways.

RevDate: 2020-11-28
CmpDate: 2020-05-27

Chang WL, Wu H, Chiu YK, et al (2019)

The Making of a Flight Feather: Bio-architectural Principles and Adaptation.

Cell, 179(6):1409-1423.e17.

The evolution of flight in feathered dinosaurs and early birds over millions of years required flight feathers whose architecture features hierarchical branches. While barb-based feather forms were investigated, feather shafts and vanes are understudied. Here, we take a multi-disciplinary approach to study their molecular control and bio-architectural organizations. In rachidial ridges, epidermal progenitors generate cortex and medullary keratinocytes, guided by Bmp and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling that convert rachides into adaptable bilayer composite beams. In barb ridges, epidermal progenitors generate cylindrical, plate-, or hooklet-shaped barbule cells that form fluffy branches or pennaceous vanes, mediated by asymmetric cell junction and keratin expression. Transcriptome analyses and functional studies show anterior-posterior Wnt2b signaling within the dermal papilla controls barbule cell fates with spatiotemporal collinearity. Quantitative bio-physical analyses of feathers from birds with different flight characteristics and feathers in Burmese amber reveal how multi-dimensional functionality can be achieved and may inspire future composite material designs. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

RevDate: 2020-02-12

Roy A, Pittman M, Saitta ET, et al (2019)

Recent advances in amniote palaeocolour reconstruction and a framework for future research.

Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society [Epub ahead of print].

Preserved melanin pigments have been discovered in fossilised integumentary appendages of several amniote lineages (fishes, frogs, snakes, marine reptiles, non-avialan dinosaurs, birds, and mammals) excavated from lagerstätten across the globe. Melanisation is a leading factor in organic integument preservation in these fossils. Melanin in extant vertebrates is typically stored in rod- to sphere-shaped, lysosome-derived, membrane-bound vesicles called melanosomes. Black, dark brown, and grey colours are produced by eumelanin, and reddish-brown colours are produced by phaeomelanin. Specific morphotypes and nanostructural arrangements of melanosomes and their relation to the keratin matrix in integumentary appendages create the so-called 'structural colours'. Reconstruction of colour patterns in ancient animals has opened an exciting new avenue for studying their life, behaviour and ecology. Modern relationships between the shape, arrangement, and size of avian melanosomes, melanin chemistry, and feather colour have been applied to reconstruct the hues and colour patterns of isolated feathers and plumages of the dinosaurs Anchiornis, Sinosauropteryx, and Microraptor in seminal papers that initiated the field of palaeocolour reconstruction. Since then, further research has identified countershading camouflage patterns, and informed subsequent predictions on the ecology and behaviour of these extinct animals. However, palaeocolour reconstruction remains a nascent field, and current approaches have considerable potential for further refinement, standardisation, and expansion. This includes detailed study of non-melanic pigments that might be preserved in fossilised integuments. A common issue among existing palaeocolour studies is the lack of contextualisation of different lines of evidence and the wide variety of techniques currently employed. To that end, this review focused on fossil amniotes: (i) produces an overarching framework that appropriately reconstructs palaeocolour by accounting for the chemical signatures of various pigments, morphology and local arrangement of pigment-bearing vesicles, pigment concentration, macroscopic colour patterns, and taphonomy; (ii) provides background context for the evolution of colour-producing mechanisms; and (iii) encourages future efforts in palaeocolour reconstructions particularly of less-studied groups such as non-dinosaur archosaurs and non-archosaur amniotes.

RevDate: 2021-02-08
CmpDate: 2021-02-08

Currie PJ, DC Evans (2020)

Cranial Anatomy of New Specimens of Saurornitholestes langstoni (Dinosauria, Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from the Dinosaur Park Formation (Campanian) of Alberta.

Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 303(4):691-715.

The holotype of the dromaeosaurid Saurornitholestes langstoni was described in 1978 on the basis of fewer than 30 associated cranial and postcranial bones of a single individual from Dinosaur Provincial Park. Four additional partial skeletons of Saurornitholestes were recovered from Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) beds of Alberta and Montana over the next 25 years, although reasonably complete skeletons remained elusive, and virtually nothing was known about the skull. The lack of truly diagnostic material has been problematic, and the relationships of Saurornitholestes to other dromaeosaurids have been difficult to resolve because of the incomplete knowledge of its anatomy. In 2014, an almost complete skeleton, including the skull, was collected less than a kilometer from where the holotype had been found. Although similar in body size to Velociraptor, the facial region of the skull is relatively shorter, taller, and wider. The nasals are pneumatic. The premaxillary teeth are distinctive, and teeth previously identified in the Dinosaur Park Formation as Zapsalis abradens can now be identified as the second premaxillary tooth of S. langstoni. Morphology and wear patterns suggest that these may have been specialized for preening feathers. Many traits define a Campanian North American clade, Saurornitholestinae, that is distinct from an Asian clade that includes Velociraptor (Velociraptorinae). This new information on the skull allows a more complete evaluation of its systematic position within the Dromaeosauridae and supports the suggestion of at least two major faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Cretaceous. Anat Rec, 303:691-715, 2020. © 2019 American Association for Anatomy.

RevDate: 2020-08-18
CmpDate: 2020-08-18

Persons WS, PJ Currie (2019)

Feather evolution exemplifies sexually selected bridges across the adaptive landscape.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 73(9):1686-1694.

Over the last two decades, paleontologists have pieced together the early evolutionary history of feathers. Simple hair-like feathers served as insulating pelage, but the first feathers with complex branching structures and a plainer form evolved for the purpose of sexual display. The evolution of these complex display feathers was essential to the later evolution of flight. Feathers illustrate how sexual selection can generate complex novel phenotypes, which are then available for natural selection to modify and direct toward novel functions. In the longstanding metaphor of the adaptive landscape, sexual selection is a means by which lineages resting on one adaptive peak may gradually bridge a gap to another peak, without the landscape itself being first altered by environmental changes.

RevDate: 2020-07-10
CmpDate: 2020-07-10

O'Connor J, Zheng X, Dong L, et al (2019)

Microraptor with Ingested Lizard Suggests Non-specialized Digestive Function.

Current biology : CB, 29(14):2423-2429.e2.

Direct indicators of diet and predator-prey relationships are exceedingly rare in the fossil record [1, 2]. However, it is through such traces that we can best understand trophic interactions in ancient ecosystems [3], confirm dietary inferences derived from skeletal morphologies [4], and clarify behavioral and ecological interpretations [5]. Here, we identify a previously unrecognized lizard species in the abdomen of a specimen of Microraptor zhaoianus, a small, volant dromaeosaurid (Paraves) with asymmetrical flight feathers on both its forelimbs and hindlimbs from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota [6-8]. The lizard is largely complete and articulated, confirming the current perception of Microraptor as an agile opportunistic predator that, like extant reptiles, including raptorial birds, ingested small prey whole and head first [9]. The lizard can be readily distinguished from previously recognized Early Cretaceous species based on its unusual widely spaced and brachydont dentition. Phylogenetic analysis suggests Indrasaurus wangi gen. et sp. nov. is a basal scleroglossan closely related to the slightly older Liushusaurus [10]. Comparison of ingested remains preserved across Paraves suggests that dromaeosaurids retained the plesiomorphic condition in which ingested prey were fully digested, rather than egested, as has been demonstrated was the case in the probable troodontid Anchiornis [11]. This supports a closer relationship between Aves and Anchiornis [12, 13] and suggests that flight did not precipitate the evolution of pellet egestion in Paraves and that the evolution of the "modern avian" digestive system in paravians was highly homoplastic [14]. A preliminary Jehol food web is reconstructed from current data.

RevDate: 2020-07-10
CmpDate: 2020-07-10

Xing L, O'Connor JK, Chiappe LM, et al (2019)

A New Enantiornithine Bird with Unusual Pedal Proportions Found in Amber.

Current biology : CB, 29(14):2396-2401.e2.

Recent discoveries of vertebrate remains trapped in middle Cretaceous amber from northern Myanmar [1, 2] have provided insights into the morphology of soft-tissue structures in extinct animals [3-7], in particular, into the evolution and paleobiology of early birds [4, 8, 9]. So far, five bird specimens have been described from Burmese amber: two isolated wings, an isolated foot with wing fragment, and two partial skeletons [4, 8-10]. Most of these specimens contain the remains of juvenile enantiornithine birds [4]. Here, we describe a new specimen of enantiornithine bird in amber, collected at the Angbamo locality in the Hukawng Valley. The new specimen includes a partial right hindlimb and remiges from an adult or subadult bird. Its foot, of which the third digit is much longer than the second and fourth digits, is distinct from those of all other currently recognized Mesozoic and extant birds. Based on the autapomorphic foot morphology, we erect a new taxon, Elektorornis chenguangi gen. et sp. nov. We suggest that the elongated third digit was employed in a unique foraging strategy, highlighting the bizarre morphospace in which early birds operated.

RevDate: 2019-12-23
CmpDate: 2019-12-23

Shawkey MD, L D'Alba (2019)

Egg pigmentation probably has an early Archosaurian origin.

Nature, 570(7761):E43-E45.

RevDate: 2019-12-17
CmpDate: 2019-12-17

Benton MJ, Dhouailly D, Jiang B, et al (2019)

The Early Origin of Feathers.

Trends in ecology & evolution, 34(9):856-869.

Feathers have long been regarded as the innovation that drove the success of birds. However, feathers have been reported from close dinosaurian relatives of birds, and now from ornithischian dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the cousins of dinosaurs. Incomplete preservation makes these reports controversial. If true, these findings shift the origin of feathers back 80 million years before the origin of birds. Gene regulatory networks show the deep homology of scales, feathers, and hairs. Hair and feathers likely evolved in the Early Triassic ancestors of mammals and birds, at a time when synapsids and archosaurs show independent evidence of higher metabolic rates (erect gait and endothermy), as part of a major resetting of terrestrial ecosystems following the devastating end-Permian mass extinction.

RevDate: 2021-02-04
CmpDate: 2020-01-21

Wang M, O'Connor JK, Xu X, et al (2019)

A new Jurassic scansoriopterygid and the loss of membranous wings in theropod dinosaurs.

Nature, 569(7755):256-259.

Powered flight evolved independently in vertebrates in the pterosaurs, birds and bats, each of which has a different configuration of the bony elements and epidermal structures that form the wings1,2. Whereas the early fossil records of pterosaurs and bats are sparse, mounting evidence (primarily from China) of feathered non-avian dinosaurs and stemward avians that derive primarily from the Middle-Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous periods has enabled the slow piecing together of the origins of avian flight3,4. These fossils demonstrate that, close to the origin of flight, dinosaurs closely related to birds were experimenting with a diversity of wing structures3,5. One of the most surprising of these is that of the scansoriopterygid (Theropoda, Maniraptora) Yi qi, which has membranous wings-a flight apparatus that was previously unknown among theropods but that is used by both the pterosaur and bat lineages6. This observation was not universally accepted7. Here we describe a newly identified scansoriopterygid-which we name Ambopteryx longibrachium, gen. et sp. nov.-from the Upper Jurassic period. This specimen provides support for the widespread existence of membranous wings and the styliform element in the Scansoriopterygidae, as well as evidence for the diet of this enigmatic theropod clade. Our analyses show that marked changes in wing architecture evolved near the split between the Scansoriopterygidae and the avian lineage, as the two clades travelled along very different paths to becoming volant. The membranous wings supported by elongate forelimbs that are present in scansoriopterygids probably represent a short-lived experimentation with volant behaviour, and feathered wings were ultimately favoured during the later evolution of Paraves.

RevDate: 2020-03-09
CmpDate: 2019-11-15

Talori YS, Zhao JS, Liu YF, et al (2019)

Identification of avian flapping motion from non-volant winged dinosaurs based on modal effective mass analysis.

PLoS computational biology, 15(5):e1006846.

The origin of avian flight is one of the most controversial debates in Paleontology. This paper investigates the wing performance of Caudipteryx, the most basal non-volant dinosaur with pennaceous feathered forelimbs by using modal effective mass theory. From a mechanical standpoint, the forced vibrations excited by hindlimb locomotion stimulate the movement of wings, creating a flapping-like motion in response. This shows that the origin of the avian flight stroke should lie in a completely natural process of active locomotion on the ground. In this regard, flapping in the history of evolution of avian flight should have already occurred when the dinosaurs were equipped with pennaceous remiges and rectrices. The forced vibrations provided the initial training for flapping the feathered wings of theropods similar to Caudipteryx.

RevDate: 2021-01-09
CmpDate: 2020-10-07

Qiu R, Wang X, Wang Q, et al (2019)

A new caudipterid from the Lower Cretaceous of China with information on the evolution of the manus of Oviraptorosauria.

Scientific reports, 9(1):6431.

Caudipteridae is a basal clade of Oviraptorosauria, all known species from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of northeastern China. They were one of the first feathered dinosaur groups discovered, and possessed avian-like pennaceous remiges and rectrices. Their discovery provided significant information on early oviraptorosaurian evolution and the origins of birds and feathers. Here we describe a new caudipterid species Xingtianosaurus ganqi gen. et sp. nov. from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province, China. This new taxon differs from other caudipterids by a small pleurocoel close to the dorsal edge of the lateral surface of the dorsal vertebrate centrum, a humerus longer than the scapula, a proportionally long ulna, a relatively small radiale angle, and a relatively short metacarpal I. The phylogenetic results shows X. ganqi is an early diverging caudipterid. It exhibits a mosaic morphology, providing new morphological information on early manual evolution of Oviraptorosauria, and giving new light on the evolution of radiale angle among Coelurosauria.

RevDate: 2021-01-09
CmpDate: 2020-10-13

McCoy VE, Gabbott SE, Penkman K, et al (2019)

Ancient amino acids from fossil feathers in amber.

Scientific reports, 9(1):6420.

Ancient protein analysis is a rapidly developing field of research. Proteins ranging in age from the Quaternary to Jurassic are being used to answer questions about phylogeny, evolution, and extinction. However, these analyses are sometimes contentious, and focus primarily on large vertebrates in sedimentary fossilisation environments; there are few studies of protein preservation in fossils in amber. Here we show exceptionally slow racemisation rates during thermal degradation experiments of resin enclosed feathers, relative to previous thermal degradation experiments of ostrich eggshell, coral skeleton, and limpet shell. We also recover amino acids from two specimens of fossil feathers in amber. The amino acid compositions are broadly similar to those of degraded feathers, but concentrations are very low, suggesting that much of the original protein has been degraded and lost. High levels of racemisation in more apolar, slowly racemising amino acids suggest that some of the amino acids were ancient and therefore original. Our findings indicate that the unique fossilisation environment inside amber shows potential for the recovery of ancient amino acids and proteins.

RevDate: 2021-01-09
CmpDate: 2020-10-05

Griffin DK, Larkin DM, RE O'Connor (2020)

Time lapse: A glimpse into prehistoric genomics.

European journal of medical genetics, 63(2):103640.

For the purpose of this review, 'time-lapse' refers to the reconstruction of ancestral (in this case dinosaur) karyotypes using genome assemblies of extant species. Such reconstructions are only usually possible when genomes are assembled to 'chromosome level' i.e. a complete representation of all the sequences, correctly ordered contiguously on each of the chromosomes. Recent paleontological evidence is very clear that birds are living dinosaurs, the latest example of dinosaurs emerging from a catastrophic extinction event. Non-avian dinosaurs (ever present in the public imagination through art, and broadcast media) emerged some 240 million years ago and have displayed incredible phenotypic diversity. Here we report on our recent studies to infer the overall karyotype of the Theropod dinosaur lineage from extant avian chromosome level genome assemblies. Our work first focused on determining the likely karyotype of the avian ancestor (most likely a chicken-sized, two-legged, feathered, land dinosaur from the Jurassic period) finding karyotypic similarity to the chicken. We then took the work further to determine the likely karyotype of the bird-lizard ancestor and the chromosomal changes (chiefly translocations and inversions) that occurred between then and modern birds. A combination of bioinformatics and cross-species fluorescence in situ hybridization (zoo-FISH) uncovered a considerable number of translocations and fissions from a 'lizard-like' genome structure of 2n = 36-46 to one similar to that of soft-shelled turtles (2n = 66) from 275 to 255 million years ago (mya). Remarkable karyotypic similarities between some soft-shelled turtles and chicken suggests that there were few translocations from the bird-turtle ancestor (plus ∼7 fissions) through the dawn of the dinosaurs and pterosaurs, through the theropod linage and on to most to modern birds. In other words, an avian-like karyotype was in place about 240mya when the dinosaurs and pterosaurs first emerged. We mapped 49 chromosome inversions from then to the present day, uncovering some gene ontology enrichment in evolutionary breakpoint regions. This avian-like karyotype with its many (micro)chromosomes provides the basis for variation (the driver of natural selection) through increased random segregation and recombination. It may therefore contribute to the ability of dinosaurs to survive multiple extinction events, emerging each time as speciose and diverse.

RevDate: 2020-08-25
CmpDate: 2020-08-25

Eastick DL, Tattersall GJ, Watson SJ, et al (2019)

Cassowary casques act as thermal windows.

Scientific reports, 9(1):1966.

Many ideas have been put forward for the adaptive value of the cassowary casque; and yet, its purpose remains speculative. Homeothermic animals elevate body temperature through metabolic heat production. Heat gain must be offset by heat loss to maintain internal temperatures within a range for optimal performance. Living in a tropical climate, cassowaries, being large bodied, dark feathered birds, are under thermal pressure to offload heat. We tested the original hypothesis that the casque acts as a thermal window. With infrared thermographic analyses of living cassowaries over an expansive range of ambient temperatures, we provide evidence that the casque acts as a thermal radiator, offloading heat at high temperatures and restricting heat loss at low temperatures. Interestingly, at intermediate temperatures, the casque appears thermally heterogeneous, with the posterior of the casque heating up before the front half. These findings might have implications for the function of similar structures in avian and non-avian dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2019-08-21
CmpDate: 2019-08-21

Campos APC, de Carvalho RT, Straker LC, et al (2019)

Combined microscopy and spectroscopy techniques to characterize a fossilized feather with minimal damage to the specimen.

Micron (Oxford, England : 1993), 120:17-24.

The study of fossil feathers has been revitalized in the last few decades and has contributed significantly to paleontological studies of dinosaurs and birds. Specific morphological and physicochemical characteristics of the microscale structures of feathers and the protein keratin are key targets when preserved during the fossilization process. Keratin is a fibrous protein that composes some hard tissues such as hair, nails and feathers. It is part of the so called intermediate filaments inside keratinocyte cells and is rich in sulfur containing amino acid cysteine. To date, different microscopy and analytical methods have been used for the analysis and detailed characterization and classification of feathers. However, in this work we showed that analytical optical and electron microscopies can be quick and precise methods with minimal effects on the sample during analysis. This association of different approaches on the same sample results in correlative data albeit in different length scales. Intracellular bodies called melanosomes originally present in melanocyte cells were identified with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), and had well-defined orientation and a mean aspect ratio comparable to melanosomes extant in dark feathers. The detection of sulphur in melanosomes via Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy both in SEM and TEM shows that, along the fossilization process, sulphur from the degraded keratin matrix could have been trapped inside the melanosomes. Chemical groups that make up keratin and melanin in the fossil sample were detected via FT-IR Spectroscopy and Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM). The use of combined analytical microscopy techniques can contribute significantly to the study of fossils generating precise results with minimum damage to the original sample.

RevDate: 2020-03-09
CmpDate: 2020-01-09

Havstad JC, NA Smith (2019)

Fossils with Feathers and Philosophy of Science.

Systematic biology, 68(5):840-851.

The last half century of paleornithological research has transformed the way that biologists perceive the evolutionary history of birds. This transformation has been driven, since 1969, by a series of exciting fossil discoveries combined with intense scientific debate over how best to interpret these discoveries. Ideally, as evidence accrues and results accumulate, interpretive scientific agreement forms. But this has not entirely happened in the debate over avian origins: the accumulation of scientific evidence and analyses has had some effect, but not a conclusive one, in terms of resolving the question of avian origins. Although the majority of biologists have come to accept that birds are dinosaurs, there is lingering and, in some quarters, strident opposition to this view. In order to both understand the ongoing disagreement about avian origins and generate a prediction about the future of the debate, here we use a revised model of scientific practice to assess the current and historical state of play surrounding the topic of bird evolutionary origins. Many scientists are familiar with the metascientific scholars Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, and these are the primary figures that have been appealed to so far, in prior attempts to assess the dispute. But we demonstrate that a variation of Imre Lakatos's model of progressive versus degenerative research programmes provides a novel and productive assessment of the debate. We establish that a refurbished Lakatosian account both explains the intractability of the dispute and predicts a likely outcome for the debate about avian origins. In short, here, we offer a metascientific tool for rationally assessing competing theories-one that allows researchers involved in seemingly intractable scientific disputes to advance their debates.

RevDate: 2020-10-01

Cincotta A, Pestchevitskaya EB, Sinitsa SM, et al (2019)

The rise of feathered dinosaurs: Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, the oldest dinosaur with 'feather-like' structures.

PeerJ, 7:e6239.

Diverse epidermal appendages including grouped filaments closely resembling primitive feathers in non-avian theropods, are associated with skeletal elements in the primitive ornithischian dinosaur Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus from the Kulinda locality in south-eastern Siberia. This discovery suggests that "feather-like" structures did not evolve exclusively in theropod dinosaurs, but were instead potentially widespread in the whole dinosaur clade. The dating of the Kulinda locality is therefore particularly important for reconstructing the evolution of "feather-like" structures in dinosaurs within a chronostratigraphic framework. Here we present the first dating of the Kulinda locality, combining U-Pb analyses (LA-ICP-MS) on detrital zircons and monazites from sedimentary rocks of volcaniclastic origin and palynological observations. Concordia ages constrain the maximum age of the volcaniclastic deposits at 172.8 ± 1.6 Ma, corresponding to the Aalenian (Middle Jurassic). The palynological assemblage includes taxa that are correlated to Bathonian palynozones from western Siberia, and therefore constrains the minimum age of the deposits. The new U-Pb ages, together with the palynological data, provide evidence of a Bathonian age-between 168.3 ± 1.3 Ma and 166.1 ± 1.2 Ma-for Kulindadromeus. This is older than the previous Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous ages tentatively based on local stratigraphic correlations. A Bathonian age is highly consistent with the phylogenetic position of Kulindadromeus at the base of the neornithischian clade and suggests that cerapodan dinosaurs originated in Asia during the Middle Jurassic, from a common ancestor that closely looked like Kulindadromeus. Our results consequently show that Kulindadromeus is the oldest known dinosaur with "feather-like" structures discovered so far.

RevDate: 2020-08-13
CmpDate: 2020-08-13

Kaye TG, Pittman M, Mayr G, et al (2019)

Detection of lost calamus challenges identity of isolated Archaeopteryx feather.

Scientific reports, 9(1):1182.

In 1862, a fossil feather from the Solnhofen quarries was described as the holotype of the iconic Archaeopteryx lithographica. The isolated feather's identification has been problematic, and the fossil was considered either a primary, secondary or, most recently, a primary covert. The specimen is surrounded by the 'mystery of the missing quill'. The calamus described in the original paper is unseen today, even under x-ray fluorescence and UV imaging, challenging its original existence. We answer this question using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) through the recovery of the geochemical halo from the original calamus matching the published description. Our study therefore shows that new techniques applied to well-studied iconic fossils can still provide valuable insights. The morphology of the complete feather excludes it as a primary, secondary or tail feather of Archaeopteryx. However, it could be a covert or a contour feather, especially since the latter are not well known in Archaeopteryx. The possibility remains that it stems from a different feathered dinosaur that lived in the Solnhofen Archipelago. The most recent analysis of the isolated feather considers it to be a primary covert. If this is the case, it lacks a distinct s-shaped centerline found in modern primary coverts that appears to be documented here for the first time.

RevDate: 2020-07-24
CmpDate: 2020-07-24

Xing L, McKellar RC, O'Connor JK, et al (2019)

A fully feathered enantiornithine foot and wing fragment preserved in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.

Scientific reports, 9(1):927.

Over the last three years, Burmese amber (~99 Ma, from Myanmar) has provided a series of immature enantiornithine skeletal remains preserved in varying developmental stages and degrees of completeness. These specimens have improved our knowledge based on compression fossils in Cretaceous sedimentary rocks, adding details of three-dimensional structure and soft tissues that are rarely preserved elsewhere. Here we describe a remarkably well-preserved foot, accompanied by part of the wing plumage. These body parts were likely dismembered, entering the resin due to predatory or scavenging behaviour by a larger animal. The new specimen preserves contour feathers on the pedal phalanges together with enigmatic scutellae scale filament (SSF) feathers on the foot, providing direct analogies to the plumage patterns observed in modern birds, and those cultivated through developmental manipulation studies. Ultimately, this connection may allow researchers to observe how filamentous dinosaur 'protofeathers' developed-testing theories using evolutionary holdovers in modern birds.

RevDate: 2020-03-09
CmpDate: 2019-05-03

Pan Y, Zheng W, Sawyer RH, et al (2019)

The molecular evolution of feathers with direct evidence from fossils.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(8):3018-3023.

Dinosaur fossils possessing integumentary appendages of various morphologies, interpreted as feathers, have greatly enhanced our understanding of the evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs, as well as the origins of feathers and avian flight. In extant birds, the unique expression and amino acid composition of proteins in mature feathers have been shown to determine their biomechanical properties, such as hardness, resilience, and plasticity. Here, we provide molecular and ultrastructural evidence that the pennaceous feathers of the Jurassic nonavian dinosaur Anchiornis were composed of both feather β-keratins and α-keratins. This is significant, because mature feathers in extant birds are dominated by β-keratins, particularly in the barbs and barbules forming the vane. We confirm here that feathers were modified at both molecular and morphological levels to obtain the biomechanical properties for flight during the dinosaur-bird transition, and we show that the patterns and timing of adaptive change at the molecular level can be directly addressed in exceptionally preserved fossils in deep time.

RevDate: 2019-04-15
CmpDate: 2019-04-15

D'Alba L (2019)

Pterosaur plumage.

Nature ecology & evolution, 3(1):12-13.

RevDate: 2021-01-08
CmpDate: 2019-05-23

Yang Z, Jiang B, McNamara ME, et al (2019)

Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching.

Nature ecology & evolution, 3(1):24-30.

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to achieve true flapping flight, but in the absence of living representatives, many questions concerning their biology and lifestyle remain unresolved. Pycnofibres-the integumentary coverings of pterosaurs-are particularly enigmatic: although many reconstructions depict fur-like coverings composed of pycnofibres, their affinities and function are not fully understood. Here, we report the preservation in two anurognathid pterosaur specimens of morphologically diverse pycnofibres that show diagnostic features of feathers, including non-vaned grouped filaments and bilaterally branched filaments, hitherto considered unique to maniraptoran dinosaurs, and preserved melanosomes with diverse geometries. These findings could imply that feathers had deep evolutionary origins in ancestral archosaurs, or that these structures arose independently in pterosaurs. The presence of feather-like structures suggests that anurognathids, and potentially other pterosaurs, possessed a dense filamentous covering that probably functioned in thermoregulation, tactile sensing, signalling and aerodynamics.

RevDate: 2020-03-09
CmpDate: 2019-10-22

Talori YS, Liu YF, Zhao JS, et al (2018)

Winged forelimbs of the small theropod dinosaur Caudipteryx could have generated small aerodynamic forces during rapid terrestrial locomotion.

Scientific reports, 8(1):17854.

Pennaceous feathers capable of forming aerodynamic surfaces are characteristic of Pennaraptora, the group comprising birds and their closest relatives among non-avian dinosaurs. However, members of the basal pennaraptoran lineage Oviraptorosauria were clearly flightless, and the function of pennaceous feathers on the forelimb in oviraptorosaurs is still uncertain. In the basal oviraptorosaur Caudipteryx both the skeleton and the plumage, which includes pennaceous feathers forming wing-like arrangements on the forelimbs, are well known. We used mathematical analyses, computer simulations and experiments on a robot Caudipteryx with realistic wing proportions to test whether the wings of Caudipteryx could have generated aerodynamic forces useful in rapid terrestrial locomotion. These various approaches show that, if both wings were held in a fixed and laterally extended position, they would have produced only small amounts of lift and drag. A partial simulation of flapping while running showed similarly limited aerodynamic force production. These results are consistent with the possibility that pennaceous feathers first evolved for a non-locomotor function such as display, but the effects of flapping and the possible contribution of the wings during manoeuvres such as braking and turning remain to be more fully investigated.

RevDate: 2020-09-30

Saitta ET, Clapham C, J Vinther (2018)

Experimental subaqueous burial of a bird carcass and compaction of plumage.

Palaontologische zeitschrift, 92(4):727-732.

'Exceptional fossils' of dinosaurs preserving feathers have radically changed the way we view their paleobiology and the evolution of birds. Understanding how such soft tissues preserve is imperative to accurately interpreting the morphology of fossil feathers. Experimental taphonomy has been integral to such investigations. One such experiment used a printing press to mimic compaction, done subaerially and without sediment burial, and concluded that the leaking of bodily fluid could lead to the clumping of feathers by causing barbs to stick together such that they superficially resemble simpler, less derived, filamentous structures. Here we use a novel, custom-built experimental setup to more accurately mimic subaqueous burial and compaction under low-energy, fine-grain depositional environments applicable to the taphonomic settings most plumage-preserving 'exceptional fossils' are found in. We find that when submerged and subsequently buried and compacted, feathers do not clump together and they maintain their original arrangement. Submersion in fluid in and of itself does not lead to clumping of barbs; this would only occur upon pulling feathers out from water into air. Furthermore, sediment encases the feathers, fixing them in place during compaction. Thus, feather clumping that leads to erroneously plesiomorphic morphological interpretations may not be a taphonomic factor of concern when examining fossil feathers. Our current methodology is amenable to further improvements that will continue to more accurately mimic subaqueous burial and compaction, allowing for various hypothesis testing.

RevDate: 2019-06-06
CmpDate: 2019-06-06

Lindgren J, Sjövall P, Thiel V, et al (2018)

Soft-tissue evidence for homeothermy and crypsis in a Jurassic ichthyosaur.

Nature, 564(7736):359-365.

Ichthyosaurs are extinct marine reptiles that display a notable external similarity to modern toothed whales. Here we show that this resemblance is more than skin deep. We apply a multidisciplinary experimental approach to characterize the cellular and molecular composition of integumental tissues in an exceptionally preserved specimen of the Early Jurassic ichthyosaur Stenopterygius. Our analyses recovered still-flexible remnants of the original scaleless skin, which comprises morphologically distinct epidermal and dermal layers. These are underlain by insulating blubber that would have augmented streamlining, buoyancy and homeothermy. Additionally, we identify endogenous proteinaceous and lipid constituents, together with keratinocytes and branched melanophores that contain eumelanin pigment. Distributional variation of melanophores across the body suggests countershading, possibly enhanced by physiological adjustments of colour to enable photoprotection, concealment and/or thermoregulation. Convergence of ichthyosaurs with extant marine amniotes thus extends to the ultrastructural and molecular levels, reflecting the omnipresent constraints of their shared adaptation to pelagic life.

RevDate: 2019-05-20
CmpDate: 2019-05-20

Wiemann J, Yang TR, MA Norell (2018)

Dinosaur egg colour had a single evolutionary origin.

Nature, 563(7732):555-558.

Birds are the only living amniotes with coloured eggs1-4, which have long been considered to be an avian innovation1,3. A recent study has demonstrated the presence of both red-brown protoporphyrin IX and blue-green biliverdin5-the pigments responsible for all the variation in avian egg colour-in fossilized eggshell of a nonavian dinosaur6. This raises the fundamental question of whether modern birds inherited egg colour from their nonavian dinosaur ancestors, or whether egg colour evolved independently multiple times. Here we present a phylogenetic assessment of egg colour in nonavian dinosaurs. We applied high-resolution Raman microspectroscopy to eggshells that represent all of the major clades of dinosaurs, and found that egg colour pigments were preserved in all eumaniraptorans: egg colour had a single evolutionary origin in nonavian theropod dinosaurs. The absence of colour in ornithischian and sauropod eggs represents a true signal rather than a taphonomic artefact. Pigment surface maps revealed that nonavian eumaniraptoran eggs were spotted and speckled, and colour pattern diversity in these eggs approaches that in extant birds, which indicates that reproductive behaviours in nonavian dinosaurs were far more complex than previously known3. Depth profiles demonstrated identical mechanisms of pigment deposition in nonavian and avian dinosaur eggs. Birds were not the first amniotes to produce coloured eggs: as with many other characteristics7,8 this is an attribute that evolved deep within the dinosaur tree and long before the spectacular radiation of modern birds.

RevDate: 2020-09-29

Heers AM, Rankin JW, JR Hutchinson (2018)

Building a Bird: Musculoskeletal Modeling and Simulation of Wing-Assisted Incline Running During Avian Ontogeny.

Frontiers in bioengineering and biotechnology, 6:140.

Flapping flight is the most power-demanding mode of locomotion, associated with a suite of anatomical specializations in extant adult birds. In contrast, many developing birds use their forelimbs to negotiate environments long before acquiring "flight adaptations," recruiting their developing wings to continuously enhance leg performance and, in some cases, fly. How does anatomical development influence these locomotor behaviors? Isolating morphological contributions to wing performance is extremely challenging using purely empirical approaches. However, musculoskeletal modeling and simulation techniques can incorporate empirical data to explicitly examine the functional consequences of changing morphology by manipulating anatomical parameters individually and estimating their effects on locomotion. To assess how ontogenetic changes in anatomy affect locomotor capacity, we combined existing empirical data on muscle morphology, skeletal kinematics, and aerodynamic force production with advanced biomechanical modeling and simulation techniques to analyze the ontogeny of pectoral limb function in a precocial ground bird (Alectoris chukar). Simulations of wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) using these newly developed musculoskeletal models collectively suggest that immature birds have excess muscle capacity and are limited more by feather morphology, possibly because feathers grow more quickly and have a different style of growth than bones and muscles. These results provide critical information about the ontogeny and evolution of avian locomotion by (i) establishing how muscular and aerodynamic forces interface with the skeletal system to generate movement in morphing juvenile birds, and (ii) providing a benchmark to inform biomechanical modeling and simulation of other locomotor behaviors, both across extant species and among extinct theropod dinosaurs.

RevDate: 2019-10-22
CmpDate: 2019-10-21

Rashid DJ, Surya K, Chiappe LM, et al (2018)

Avian tail ontogeny, pygostyle formation, and interpretation of juvenile Mesozoic specimens.

Scientific reports, 8(1):9014.

The avian tail played a critical role in the evolutionary transition from long- to short-tailed birds, yet its ontogeny in extant birds has largely been ignored. This deficit has hampered efforts to effectively identify intermediate species during the Mesozoic transition to short tails. Here we show that fusion of distal vertebrae into the pygostyle structure does not occur in extant birds until near skeletal maturity, and mineralization of vertebral processes also occurs long after hatching. Evidence for post-hatching pygostyle formation is also demonstrated in two Cretaceous specimens, a juvenile enantiornithine and a subadult basal ornithuromorph. These findings call for reinterpretations of Zhongornis haoae, a Cretaceous bird hypothesized to be an intermediate in the long- to short-tailed bird transition, and of the recently discovered coelurosaur tail embedded in amber. Zhongornis, as a juvenile, may not yet have formed a pygostyle, and the amber-embedded tail specimen is reinterpreted as possibly avian. Analyses of relative pygostyle lengths in extant and Cretaceous birds suggests the number of vertebrae incorporated into the pygostyle has varied considerably, further complicating the interpretation of potential transitional species. In addition, this analysis of avian tail development reveals the generation and loss of intervertebral discs in the pygostyle, vertebral bodies derived from different kinds of cartilage, and alternative modes of caudal vertebral process morphogenesis in birds. These findings demonstrate that avian tail ontogeny is a crucial parameter specifically for the interpretation of Mesozoic specimens, and generally for insights into vertebrae formation.

RevDate: 2019-05-25
CmpDate: 2018-12-11

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.

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: 2019-03-13
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.

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: 2019-11-20

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: 2020-09-30

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

Flight feather development: its early specialization during embryogenesis.

Zoological letters, 4:2.

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: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2018-08-06

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):.

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: 2018-11-13
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.

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: 2019-01-10
CmpDate: 2018-11-16

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.

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: 2020-10-01

Wilson PF, Smith MP, Hay J, et al (2018)

X-ray computed tomography (XCT) and chemical analysis (EDX and XRF) used in conjunction for cultural conservation: the case of the earliest scientifically described dinosaur Megalosaurus bucklandii.

Heritage science, 6(1):58.

This paper demonstrates the combined use of X-ray computed tomography (XCT), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to evaluate the conservational history of the dentary (lower jaw) of Megalosaurus bucklandii Mantell, 1827, the first scientifically described dinosaur. Previous analysis using XCT revealed that the specimen had undergone at least two phases of repair using two different kinds of plaster, although their composition remained undetermined. Additional chemical analysis using EDX and XRF has allowed the determination of the composition of these unidentified plasters, revealing that they are of similar composition, composed dominantly of 'plaster of Paris' mixed with quartz sand and calcite, potentially from the matrix material of the Stonesfield Slate, with the trace presence of chlorine. One of the plasters unusually contains the pigment minium (naturally occurring lead tetroxide; Pb2 2+Pb4+O4) whilst the other seems to have an additional coating of barium hydroxide (Ba(OH)2), indicating that these likely represent two separate stages of repair. The potential of this combined approach for evaluating problematic museum objects for conservation is further discussed as is its usage in cultural heritage today.

RevDate: 2018-12-12
CmpDate: 2018-09-18

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

parasitised feathered dinosaurs as revealed by Cretaceous amber assemblages.

Nature communications, 8(1):1924.

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: 2019-02-15
CmpDate: 2019-02-15

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: 2018-08-08
CmpDate: 2018-08-08

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: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2018-02-14

Pickrell J (2017)

Camouflage plumage patterns offer clue to dinosaur's habitat.

Nature, 551(7678):17.

RevDate: 2018-11-13
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.

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: 2020-09-29

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

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

PeerJ, 5:e3706.

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: 2018-12-02
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.

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: 2020-09-08
CmpDate: 2020-09-08

Dhouailly D, Godefroit P, Martin T, et al (2019)

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

Experimental dermatology, 28(4):503-508.

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: 2020-02-25
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: 2019-01-12
CmpDate: 2018-11-14

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

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

Nature communications, 8:14972.

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: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2017-06-07

Padian K (2017)

Palaeontology: Dividing the dinosaurs.

Nature, 543(7646):494-495.

RevDate: 2019-06-20
CmpDate: 2019-06-20

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: 2019-06-20
CmpDate: 2019-06-20

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: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2018-11-09

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.

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: 2019-01-30
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: 2021-03-04
CmpDate: 2018-12-19

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.

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: 2018-10-24
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: 2018-11-13
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: 2019-11-20

Gates TA, Organ C, LE Zanno (2016)

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

Nature communications, 7:12931.

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: 2018-11-13
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: 2018-12-02
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: 2020-09-30
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.

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: 2020-09-30
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.

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: 2019-04-15
CmpDate: 2018-08-21

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

Mummified precocial bird wings in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.

Nature communications, 7:12089.

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: 2018-12-02
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: 2019-12-10
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.

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: 2018-11-13
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.

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: 2020-10-01
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: 2019-01-10
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: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2016-08-04

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

On the probability of dinosaur fleas.

BMC evolutionary biology, 16:9.

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: 2018-11-13
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.

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.


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

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Curriculum Vitae for R J Robbins

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RJR Picks from Around the Web (updated 11 MAY 2018 )