Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shortening tails gave early birds a leg up

Date:
August 13, 2013
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
A radical shortening of their bony tails over 100 million years ago enabled the earliest birds to develop versatile legs that gave them an evolutionary edge, a new study shows.

This image shows fossil birds from the time of dinosaurs [left image: Eoenatiornis, right image: Hongshanornis] showing they had diverse types of legs.
Credit: Roger Close

A radical shortening of their bony tails over 100 million years ago enabled the earliest birds to develop versatile legs that gave them an evolutionary edge, a new study shows.

A team led by Oxford University scientists examined fossils of the earliest birds from the Cretaceous Period, 145-66 million years ago, when early birds, such as Confuciusornis, Eoenantiornis, and Hongshanornis, lived alongside their dinosaur kin. At this point birds had already evolved powered flight, necessitating changes to their forelimbs, and the team investigated how this new lifestyle related to changes in their hind limbs (legs).

The team made detailed measurements of early bird fossils from all over the world including China, North America, and South America. An analysis of this data showed that the loss of their long bony tails, which occurred after flight had evolved, led to an explosion of diversity in the hind limbs of early birds, prefiguring the amazing variety of talons, stilts, and other specialised hind limbs that have helped to make modern birds so successful.

A report of the research is published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

'These early birds were not as sophisticated as the birds we know today -- if modern birds have evolved to be like stealth bombers then these were more like biplanes,' said Dr Roger Benson of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research. 'Yet what surprised us was that despite some still having primitive traits, such as teeth, these early birds display an incredibly diverse array of versatile legs.'

By comparing measurements of the main parts of the legs of early birds -- upper leg, shin, and foot -- to those of their dinosaur relatives Dr Benson and co-author Dr Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, were able to determine whether bird leg evolution was exceptional compared to leg evolution in dinosaurs.

'Our work shows that, whilst they may have started off as just another type of dinosaur, birds quickly made a rather special evolutionary breakthrough that gave them abilities and advantages that their dinosaur cousins didn't have,' said Dr Rogers. 'Key to this special 'birdness' was losing the long bony dinosaur tail -- as soon as this happened it freed up their legs to evolve to become highly versatile and adaptable tools that opened up new ecological niches.'

It was developing these highly versatile legs, rather than powered flight, that saw the evolutionary diversification of early birds proceed faster than was generally true of other dinosaurs.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. B. J. Benson, J. N. Choiniere. Rates of dinosaur limb evolution provide evidence for exceptional radiation in Mesozoic birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013; 280 (1768): 20131780 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1780

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Shortening tails gave early birds a leg up." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130813201426.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2013, August 13). Shortening tails gave early birds a leg up. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130813201426.htm
University of Oxford. "Shortening tails gave early birds a leg up." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130813201426.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) A ceremony marking 50 years since Japan launched its Shinkansen bullet train was held on Wednesday in Tokyo. The latest model can travel from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 319 miles, in two hours and 25 minutes. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

AP (Sep. 30, 2014) A Spanish cannon used in the Battle of New Orleans and weighing nearly 3 tons was lowered Tuesday by pulleys, chains and muscle onto a new gun carriage like one that might have held it once aboard a navy ship. (Sept. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) A 2,000 year-old Pre-Inca cloak that is believed to represent an agricultural calendar of the Paracas culture is on display in Lima. Duration: 00:39 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) Considered lost for over two centuries, the original manuscript of one of the most famous works of Mozart's Sonata in A major has been uncovered in a library in Budapest. Duration: 01:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins