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      Fossil evidence for evolution of the shape and color of penguin feathers.

      Science (New York, N.Y.)
      Animals, Biological Evolution, Bone and Bones, anatomy & histology, Feathers, ultrastructure, Fossils, Melanosomes, Microscopy, Electron, Scanning, Peru, Phylogeny, Pigmentation, Spheniscidae, classification, Wing

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          Abstract

          Penguin feathers are highly modified in form and function, but there have been no fossils to inform their evolution. A giant penguin with feathers was recovered from the late Eocene (~36 million years ago) of Peru. The fossil reveals that key feathering features, including undifferentiated primary wing feathers and broad body contour feather shafts, evolved early in the penguin lineage. Analyses of fossilized color-imparting melanosomes reveal that their dimensions were similar to those of non-penguin avian taxa and that the feathering may have been predominantly gray and reddish-brown. In contrast, the dark black-brown color of extant penguin feathers is generated by large, ellipsoidal melanosomes previously unknown for birds. The nanostructure of penguin feathers was thus modified after earlier macrostructural modifications of feather shape linked to aquatic flight.

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          Early penguin fossils, plus mitochondrial genomes, calibrate avian evolution.

          Testing models of macroevolution, and especially the sufficiency of microevolutionary processes, requires good collaboration between molecular biologists and paleontologists. We report such a test for events around the Late Cretaceous by describing the earliest penguin fossils, analyzing complete mitochondrial genomes from an albatross, a petrel, and a loon, and describe the gradual decline of pterosaurs at the same time modern birds radiate. The penguin fossils comprise four naturally associated skeletons from the New Zealand Waipara Greensand, a Paleocene (early Tertiary) formation just above a well-known Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary site. The fossils, in a new genus (Waimanu), provide a lower estimate of 61-62 Ma for the divergence between penguins and other birds and thus establish a reliable calibration point for avian evolution. Combining fossil calibration points, DNA sequences, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian analysis, the penguin calibrations imply a radiation of modern (crown group) birds in the Late Cretaceous. This includes a conservative estimate that modern sea and shorebird lineages diverged at least by the Late Cretaceous about 74 +/- 3 Ma (Campanian). It is clear that modern birds from at least the latest Cretaceous lived at the same time as archaic birds including Hesperornis, Ichthyornis, and the diverse Enantiornithiformes. Pterosaurs, which also coexisted with early crown birds, show notable changes through the Late Cretaceous. There was a decrease in taxonomic diversity, and small- to medium-sized species disappeared well before the end of the Cretaceous. A simple reading of the fossil record might suggest competitive interactions with birds, but much more needs to be understood about pterosaur life histories. Additional fossils and molecular data are still required to help understand the role of biotic interactions in the evolution of Late Cretaceous birds and thus to test that the mechanisms of microevolution are sufficient to explain macroevolution.
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            The colour of fossil feathers.

            Feathers are complex integumentary appendages of birds and some other theropod dinosaurs. They are frequently coloured and function in camouflage and display. Previous investigations have concluded that fossil feathers are preserved as carbonized traces composed of feather-degrading bacteria. Here, an investigation of a colour-banded feather from the Lower Cretaceous Crato Formation of Brazil revealed that the dark bands are preserved as elongate, oblate carbonaceous bodies 1-2 microm long, whereas the light bands retain only relief traces on the rock matrix. Energy dispersive X-ray analysis showed that the dark bands preserve a substantial amount of carbon, whereas the light bands show no carbon residue. Comparison of these oblate fossil bodies with the structure of black feathers from a living bird indicates that they are the eumelanin-containing melanosomes. We conclude that most fossil feathers are preserved as melanosomes, and that the distribution of these structures in fossil feathers can preserve the colour pattern in the original feather. The discovery of preserved melanosomes opens up the possibility of interpreting the colour of extinct birds and other dinosaurs.
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              Pinniped phylogeny and a new hypothesis for their origin and dispersal.

              The relationships and the zoogeography of the three extant pinniped families, Otariidae (sea lions and fur seals), Odobenidae (one extant species, the walrus), and Phocidae (true seals), have been contentious. Here, we address these topics in a molecular study that includes all extant species of true seals and sea lions, four fur seals and the walrus. Contrary to prevailing morphological views the analyses conclusively showed monophyletic Pinnipedia with a basal split between Otarioidea (Otariidae+Odobenidae) and Phocidae. The northern fur seal was the sister to all remaining otariids and neither sea lions nor arctocephaline fur seals were recognized as monophyletic entities. The basal Phocidae split between Monachinae (monk seals and southern true seals) and Phocinae (northern true seals) was strongly supported. The phylogeny of the Phocinae suggests that the ancestors of Cystophora (hooded seal) and the Phocini (e.g. harp seal, ringed seal) adapted to Arctic conditions and ice-breeding before 12 MYA (million years ago) as supported by the white natal coat of these lineages. The origin of the endemic Caspian and Baikal seals was dated well before the onset of major Pleistocene glaciations. The current findings, together with recent advances in pinniped paleontology, allow the proposal of a new hypothesis for pinniped origin and early dispersal. The hypothesis posits that pinnipeds originated on the North American continent with early otarioid and otariid divergences taking place in the northeast Pacific and those of the phocids in coastal areas of southeast N America for later dispersal to colder environments in the N Atlantic and the Arctic Basin, and in Antarctic waters.
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