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Bibliography on: Feathered Dinosaurs

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ESP: PubMed Auto Bibliography 17 Oct 2019 at 01:37 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: 2019-09-20

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: 2019-09-09

Currie PJ, DC Evans (2019)

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) [Epub ahead of print].

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, 2019. © 2019 American Association for Anatomy.

RevDate: 2019-07-30

Persons WS, PJ Currie (2019)

Feather evolution exemplifies sexually selected bridges across the adaptive landscape.

Evolution; international journal of organic evolution [Epub ahead of print].

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: 2019-07-27

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: 2019-08-24

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: 2019-05-09

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: 2019-05-19

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 pii:PCOMPBIOL-D-18-01482.

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: 2019-05-08

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 pii:10.1038/s41598-019-42547-6.

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: 2019-04-16

Griffin DK, Larkin DM, RE O'Connor (2019)

Time lapse: A glimpse into prehistoric genomics.

European journal of medical genetics pii:S1769-7212(19)30059-X [Epub ahead of print].

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: 2019-02-20

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

Cassowary casques act as thermal windows.

Scientific reports, 9(1):1966 pii:10.1038/s41598-019-38780-8.

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: 2019-08-25

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: 2019-02-08

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 pii:6239.

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: 2019-02-07

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

Detection of lost calamus challenges identity of isolated Archaeopteryx feather.

Scientific reports, 9(1):1182 pii:10.1038/s41598-018-37343-7.

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: 2019-02-03

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 pii:10.1038/s41598-018-37427-4.

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: 2019-08-19
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: 2019-05-23
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: 2018-12-25

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 pii:10.1038/s41598-018-35966-4.

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: 2018-12-17

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: 2018-11-14

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: 2019-05-25
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: 2019-01-30

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

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13

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: 2019-07-04

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; Pb22+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: 2018-11-13

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: 2019-04-29

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: 2019-08-02
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: 2019-06-10
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: 2019-01-14

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: 2019-01-11
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: 2018-11-13
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: 2019-02-13
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: 2018-11-13
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.

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

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

The Origin and Diversification of Birds.

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

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-09-15

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

Molecular composition and ultrastructure of Jurassic paravian feathers.

Scientific reports, 5:13520.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-08-11

Lü J, SL Brusatte (2015)

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

Scientific reports, 5:11775.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-05-03

Smith T, V Codrea (2015)

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

PloS one, 10(7):e0132550.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-03-09

Barrett PM, Evans DC, NE Campione (2015)

Evolution of dinosaur epidermal structures.

Biology letters, 11(6):20150229.

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

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

Musser JM, Wagner GP, RO Prum (2015)

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

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

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

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

Anonymous (2015)

More on unicorns.

Nature, 520(7549):586.

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-06-02

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

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

Nature, 521(7550):70-73.

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

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

Vinther J (2015)

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-04-05

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

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

Scientific reports, 5:9472.

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

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

Persons WS, PJ Currie (2015)

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

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

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

RevDate: 2019-01-08
CmpDate: 2015-11-20

Feo TJ, Field DJ, RO Prum (2015)

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2015-01-15

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

On the origin of feathers--response.

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2015-01-15

Mayr G (2014)

On the origin of feathers.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2015-08-18

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

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

Genome biology, 15(12):565.

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2015-07-21

Ksepka DT (2014)

Evolution: a rapid flight towards birds.

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

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

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

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

An integrative approach to understanding bird origins.

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

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2015-08-18

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

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2016-01-22

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

Development, regeneration, and evolution of feathers.

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

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2014-11-11

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

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2014-11-11

Lingham-Soliar T (2014)

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

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

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

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

Koschowitz MC, Fischer C, M Sander (2014)

Evolution. Beyond the rainbow.

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

RevDate: 2019-01-08
CmpDate: 2015-04-22

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

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

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

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2015-04-21

Zhou Z (2014)

Dinosaur evolution: feathers up for selection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature communications, 5:4382 pii:ncomms5382.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2014-08-15

Foth C, Tischlinger H, OW Rauhut (2014)

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

Nature, 511(7507):79-82.

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

RevDate: 2019-01-08
CmpDate: 2015-10-22

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

Seeking carotenoid pigments in amber-preserved fossil feathers.

Scientific reports, 4:5226.

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

RevDate: 2019-02-02
CmpDate: 2015-05-28

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

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

PLoS biology, 12(5):e1001853.

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

RevDate: 2018-11-13
CmpDate: 2015-01-23

Nudds RL (2014)

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

PloS one, 9(4):e93963.

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

RevDate: 2018-12-02
CmpDate: 2014-07-30

Zhou CF, Rabi M, WG Joyce (2014)

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

BMC evolutionary biology, 14:77.

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

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

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


ESP Quick Facts

ESP Origins

In the early 1990's, Robert Robbins was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, where he directed the informatics core of GDB — the human gene-mapping database of the international human genome project. To share papers with colleagues around the world, he set up a small paper-sharing section on his personal web page. This small project evolved into The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

ESP Support

In 1995, Robbins became the VP/IT of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. Soon after arriving in Seattle, Robbins secured funding, through the ELSI component of the US Human Genome Project, to create the original ESP.ORG web site, with the formal goal of providing free, world-wide access to the literature of classical genetics.

ESP Rationale

Although the methods of molecular biology can seem almost magical to the uninitiated, the original techniques of classical genetics are readily appreciated by one and all: cross individuals that differ in some inherited trait, collect all of the progeny, score their attributes, and propose mechanisms to explain the patterns of inheritance observed.

ESP Goal

In reading the early works of classical genetics, one is drawn, almost inexorably, into ever more complex models, until molecular explanations begin to seem both necessary and natural. At that point, the tools for understanding genome research are at hand. Assisting readers reach this point was the original goal of The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

ESP Usage

Usage of the site grew rapidly and has remained high. Faculty began to use the site for their assigned readings. Other on-line publishers, ranging from The New York Times to Nature referenced ESP materials in their own publications. Nobel laureates (e.g., Joshua Lederberg) regularly used the site and even wrote to suggest changes and improvements.

ESP Content

When the site began, no journals were making their early content available in digital format. As a result, ESP was obliged to digitize classic literature before it could be made available. For many important papers — such as Mendel's original paper or the first genetic map — ESP had to produce entirely new typeset versions of the works, if they were to be available in a high-quality format.

ESP Help

Early support from the DOE component of the Human Genome Project was critically important for getting the ESP project on a firm foundation. Since that funding ended (nearly 20 years ago), the project has been operated as a purely volunteer effort. Anyone wishing to assist in these efforts should send an email to Robbins.

ESP Plans

With the development of methods for adding typeset side notes to PDF files, the ESP project now plans to add annotated versions of some classical papers to its holdings. We also plan to add new reference and pedagogical material. We have already started providing regularly updated, comprehensive bibliographies to the ESP.ORG site.

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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

Electronic Scholarly Publishing
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Papers in Classical Genetics

The ESP began as an effort to share a handful of key papers from the early days of classical genetics. Now the collection has grown to include hundreds of papers, in full-text format.

Digital Books

Along with papers on classical genetics, ESP offers a collection of full-text digital books, including many works by Darwin (and even a collection of poetry — Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg).


ESP now offers a much improved and expanded collection of timelines, designed to give the user choice over subject matter and dates.


Biographical information about many key scientists.

Selected Bibliographies

Bibliographies on several topics of potential interest to the ESP community are now being automatically maintained and generated on the ESP site.

ESP Picks from Around the Web (updated 07 JUL 2018 )