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An integrative approach to understanding bird origins.

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      Abstract

      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.

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      Most cited references 113

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      The evolution of dinosaurs.

      The ascendancy of dinosaurs on land near the close of the Triassic now appears to have been as accidental and opportunistic as their demise and replacement by therian mammals at the end of the Cretaceous. The dinosaurian radiation, launched by 1-meter-long bipeds, was slower in tempo and more restricted in adaptive scope than that of therian mammals. A notable exception was the evolution of birds from small-bodied predatory dinosaurs, which involved a dramatic decrease in body size. Recurring phylogenetic trends among dinosaurs include, to the contrary, increase in body size. There is no evidence for co-evolution between predators and prey or between herbivores and flowering plants. As the major land masses drifted apart, dinosaurian biogeography was molded more by regional extinction and intercontinental dispersal than by the breakup sequence of Pangaea.
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        A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus.

        The early evolution of the major groups of derived non-avialan theropods is still not well understood, mainly because of their poor fossil record in the Jurassic. A well-known result of this problem is the 'temporal paradox' argument that is sometimes made against the theropod hypothesis of avian origins. Here we report on an exceptionally well-preserved small theropod specimen collected from the earliest Late Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation of western Liaoning, China. The specimen is referable to the Troodontidae, which are among the theropods most closely related to birds. This new find refutes the 'temporal paradox'1 and provides significant information on the temporal framework of theropod divergence. Furthermore, the extensive feathering of this specimen, particularly the attachment of long pennaceous feathers to the pes, sheds new light on the early evolution of feathers and demonstrates the complex distribution of skeletal and integumentary features close to the dinosaur-bird transition.
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          The theropod ancestry of birds: new evidence from the late cretaceous of madagascar

          A partial skeleton of a primitive bird, Rahona ostromi, gen. et sp. nov., has been discovered from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. This specimen, although exhibiting avian features such as a reversed hallux and ulnar papillae, retains characteristics that indicate a theropod ancestry, including a pubic foot and hyposphene-hypantra vertebral articulations. Rahona has a robust, hyperextendible second digit on the hind foot that terminates in a sicklelike claw, a unique characteristic of the theropod groups Troodontidae and Dromaeosauridae. A phylogenetic analysis places Rahona with Archaeopteryx, making Rahona one of the most primitive birds yet discovered.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ] Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100044, PR China. xu.xing@ivpp.ac.cn.
            [2 ] Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100044, PR China.
            [3 ] Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
            [4 ] Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory, Center for Cancer Research, NCI-Frederick NIH, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.
            [5 ] Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, CA 90033, USA. Cheng Kung University, Laboratory for Wound Repair and Regeneration, Graduated Institute of Clinical Medicine, Tainan, 70101, Taiwan.
            [6 ] Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4295, USA.
            [7 ] Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA.
            Journal
            Science
            Science (New York, N.Y.)
            1095-9203
            0036-8075
            Dec 12 2014
            : 346
            : 6215
            346/6215/1253293
            10.1126/science.1253293
            25504729
            Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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