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      A new basal bird from China with implications for morphological diversity in early birds

      a , 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 3 , 4 , b , 1

      Scientific Reports

      Nature Publishing Group

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          Abstract

          The Chinese Lower Cretaceous Jehol Group is the second oldest fossil bird-bearing deposit, only surpassed by Archaeopteryx from the German Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Limestones. Here we report a new bird, Chongmingia zhengi gen. et sp. nov., from the Jehol Biota. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that Chongmingia zhengi is basal to the dominant Mesozoic avian clades Enantiornithes and Ornithuromorpha, and represents a new basal avialan lineage. This new discovery adds to our knowledge regarding the phylogenetic differentiation and morphological diversity in early avian evolution. The furcula of Chongmingia is rigid (reducing its efficiency), consequently requiring more power for flight. However, the elongated forelimb and the large deltopectoral crest on the humerus might indicate that the power was available. The unique combination of features present in this species demonstrates that numerous evolutionary experimentations took place in the early evolution of powered flight. The occurrence of gastroliths further confirms that herbivory was common among basal birds. The Jehol birds faced competition with pterosaurs, and occupied sympatric habitats with non-avian theropods, some of which consumed birds. Thus, avialan herbivory may have reduced ecological competition from carnivorous close relatives and other volant vertebrates early in their evolutionary history.

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          Most cited references 42

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          An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem.

          Fieldwork in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group, northeastern China has revealed a plethora of extraordinarily well-preserved fossils that are shaping some of the most contentious debates in palaeontology and evolutionary biology. These discoveries include feathered theropod dinosaurs and early birds, which provide additional, indisputable support for the dinosaurian ancestry of birds, and much new evidence on the evolution of feathers and flight. Specimens of putative basal angiosperms and primitive mammals are clarifying details of the early radiations of these major clades. Detailed soft-tissue preservation of the organisms from the Jehol Biota is providing palaeobiological insights that would not normally be accessible from the fossil record.
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            An Archaeopteryx-like theropod from China and the origin of Avialae.

             Kai Du,  Taek You,  Fenglu Han (2011)
            Archaeopteryx is widely accepted as being the most basal bird, and accordingly it is regarded as central to understanding avialan origins; however, recent discoveries of derived maniraptorans have weakened the avialan status of Archaeopteryx. Here we report a new Archaeopteryx-like theropod from China. This find further demonstrates that many features formerly regarded as being diagnostic of Avialae, including long and robust forelimbs, actually characterize the more inclusive group Paraves (composed of the avialans and the deinonychosaurs). Notably, adding the new taxon into a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis shifts Archaeopteryx to the Deinonychosauria. Despite only tentative statistical support, this result challenges the centrality of Archaeopteryx in the transition to birds. If this new phylogenetic hypothesis can be confirmed by further investigation, current assumptions regarding the avialan ancestral condition will need to be re-evaluated.
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              A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China.

              The lacustrine deposits of the Yixian and Jiufotang Formations in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group in the western Liaoning area of northeast China are well known for preserving feathered dinosaurs, primitive birds and mammals. Here we report a large basal bird, Jeholornis prima gen. et sp. nov., from the Jiufotang Formation. This bird is distinctively different from other known birds of the Early Cretaceous period in retaining a long skeletal tail with unexpected elongated prezygopophyses and chevrons, resembling that of dromaeosaurids, providing a further link between birds and non-avian theropods. Despite its basal position in early avian evolution, the advanced features of the pectoral girdle and the carpal trochlea of the carpometacarpus of Jeholornis indicate the capability of powerful flight. The dozens of beautifully preserved ovules of unknown plant taxa in the stomach represents direct evidence for seed-eating adaptation in birds of the Mesozoic era.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Sci Rep
                Sci Rep
                Scientific Reports
                Nature Publishing Group
                2045-2322
                25 January 2016
                2016
                : 6
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences , Beijing 100044, China
                [2 ]State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences , Nanjing, 210008, China
                [3 ]Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Linyi University , Linyi, Shandong 276000, China
                [4 ]Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature , Pingyi, Shandong 273300, China
                Author notes
                Article
                srep19700
                10.1038/srep19700
                4726217
                26806355
                Copyright © 2016, Macmillan Publishers Limited

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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