Paleo Irony: Rhetoric vs. Reality on Birds (+ Pterosaurs, while we’re at it)

A new paper
by Smith et al. (2015) cements the relationship of birds with mairaptoran theropod dinosaurs (a nesting confirmed by the large reptile tree.) It was inspired by recent papers attempting to distance birds from theropod dinosaurs by Alan Feduccia and the late Stephen Czerkas (links below).

From the Smith et al. abstract: “Birds are maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs. The evidence supporting the systematic position of Avialae as a derived clade within Dinosauria is  voluminous and derived from multiple independent lines of evidence. In contrast, a paucity of selectively chosen data weakly support, at best, alternative proposals regarding the origin of birds and feathers. Opponents of the theory that birds are dinosaurs have frequently based their criticisms on unorthodox interpretations of paleontological data and misrepresentation of phylogenetic systematic methods. Moreover, arguments against the nested position of Avialae in Dinosauria have often conflated the logically distinct questions of avian origins, the evolution of flight, and the phylogenetic distribution of feathers. Motivated by a Perspectives article with numerous factual inaccuracies that recently appeared in The Auk, we provide a review of the full complement of facts pertaining to the avian origins debate and address the misplaced criticisms raised in that opinion paper.”

All you have to do is substitute
‘pterosaurs’ for ‘birds’ in the abstract and the rest follows in perfect irony:

Pterosaurs are fenestrasaur tritosaur lepidosaurs. The evidence supporting the systematic position of Pterosauria as a derived clade within Fenestrasauria is  voluminous and derived from multiple independent lines of evidence (fenestrasaurs are not necessary to nest pterosaurs within tritosaur lepidosaurs). In contrast, a paucity of selectively chosen data weakly support, at best, alternative proposals regarding the origin of pterosaurs as archosaurs. Opponents of the theory that pterosaurs are fenestrasaurs have frequently based their cladograms on taxon exclusion and misrepresentation of scoring data. Moreover, arguments against the nested position of Pterosauria in Fenestrasauria/Tritosauria/Lepidosauria have often conflated the logically distinct questions of pterosaur origins, the evolution of flight, and the phylogenetic distribution of patagial and other membranes. Motivated by a Sues and Nesbitt (2013) paper based on a Nesbitt (2011) cladogram with numerous scoring inaccuracies and taxon exclusion that has been a traditional fault, I provide a review of the full complement of facts pertaining to the pterosaur origins debate and address the misplaced criticisms raised in a Hone and Benton (2007, 2008) paper.

See ReptileEvolution.com and various topics within PterosaurHeresies.Wordpress.com for text and figures.

See here and here for Nesbitt 2011 issues and here for Hone and Benton issues.

And while you’re at it
you can look up alternative nestings for Vancleavea, Casea, Mesosaurus, turtles, synapsids, tiny pterosaurs, Eudibamus, Cartorhynchus, Gephyrostegus, etc. etc.

Isn’t it ironic
that the paleontologists who support an archosaur relationship won’t even look at a lepidosaur relationship? And they reject papers that do present a lepidosaur relationship because such a nesting is heterodox (= different). AND they continue to promote the hypothesis that pterosaurs evolved “without obvious antecedent” with purported sisters that don’t look anything like pterosaurs.

We need
a generally accepted large scale umbrella study of the Reptilia (= Amniota) in order to proceed with smaller more focused studies with greater confidence and to repair old issues. In fact, such a study should also quiet the opposition from Dr. Feduccia on the bird/theropod issue.

References
Smith NA, Chiappe LM, Clarke JA, Edwards SV, Nesbitt SJ, Norell MA, Stidham TA, Turner A, van Tuinen M,  Vinther J and Xu X 2015. Rhetoric vs. reality: A commentary on “Bird Origins Anew” by A. Feduccia. The Auk 132(2): 467-480

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1642/AUK-14-203.1
http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1642/AUK-14-203.1

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