Shedding new light (literally!) on Jianianhualong: Li et al. 2020

Li et al. 2020 used various frequencies of light
and spectroscope technology on the holotype bones and feathers of Jianianhualong (Figs. 1, 2; Early Cretaceous, Xu et al. 2020, DLXH 1218) to identify specific elements in the matrix and specimen.

From the abstract:
“Here, we carried out a large-area micro-X-Ray fluorescence (micro-XRF) analysis on the holotypic specimen of Jianianhualong tengi via a Brucker M6 Jetstream mobile XRF scanner.”

Figure 2. Jianianhualong, Serikornis and Jurapteryx to scale.

Figure 1a. Jianianhualong, Serikornis and Jurapteryx to scale.

Figure 1. Jianianhualong tengi in situ. This is the largest among the early birds, a fact overlooked by the Xu et al. 2017. Think of Jianianhualong as a giant Archaeopteryx!

Figure 1b. Jianianhualong tengi in situ. This is the largest among the early birds, a fact overlooked by the Xu et al. 2017. Think of Jianianhualong as a giant Archaeopteryx!

From the abstract:
“Jianianhualong tengi is a key taxon for understanding the evolution of pennaceous feathers as well as troodontid theropods, and it is known by only the holotype, which was recovered from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of western Liaoning, China.” 

What they didn’t do is to rerun their phylogenetic analysis with more taxa (Fig. 2).

What they didn’t do is to create a reconstruction, perhaps using DGS to precisely trace and segregate the bones to rebuild the skeleton (Figs. 1, 3, 4).

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on Pennaraptora 2014 = Tyrannoraptora 1999. Here Khaan and Velociraptor substitute for Oviraptor and Deinonychus.

Figure x. Subset of the LRT focusing on birds and their ancestors. Jianianhualong nests within Aves (five taxa from the bottom).

By contrast,
in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1730+ taxa) Jianianhualong nests within Aves (five taxa from the bottom of Fig. 2) even though it was clearly not volant due to its much larger size and smaller forelimbs. Close relatives include Archaeopteryx (= Jurapteryx) recurva (= Eichstätt specimen, Fig. 3) and the privately held #11 specimen of Archaeopteryx.

The authors think Jianianhualong is a troodontid.
According to Wikipedia“A number of characteristics allow Jianianhualong to be identified as a member of the Troodontidae. These include:

  1. the long forward-projecting branch and flange of the lacrimal bone; [✓]
  2. the foramina on the nasal bone; [?]
  3. the smooth transition between the eye socket and the backward-projecting branch of the frontal bone; [✓]
  4. the ridge on the forward-projecting branch of the jugal bone; [✓]
  5. the triangular dentary bearing a widening groove; [✓]
  6. the robust forward-projecting branch of the surangular bone; [✓]
  7. the relatively large number of unevenly-distributed teeth; [✓]
  8. the flattened chevrons with blunt forward projections and bifurcated backward projections; [✓]
  9. and the broad and flat “pubic apron” formed by the pubic bones.” [?]

Figure 3. The Eichstätt specimen, Jurapteryx recurva, nests with the living ostrich, Struthio, presently in the LRT.

Figure 2. The Eichstätt specimen, Jurapteryx recurva, nests with the living ostrich, Struthio, presently in the LRT.

Professor Larry Martin would be so proud!
Why? Because the Wikipedia author (above) is using a list of traits to support an hypothesis of interrelationships rather than using a cladogram to support that hypothesis.  Checkmarks [✓] indicate traits Jurapteryx shares. Question marks [?] indicate traits not shown in Jianianhualong or Jurapteryx. Or did I miss something?

The problem is,
various authors add taxa to the Troodontidae that don’t belong there in the LRT, as we learned earlier here. The LRT; subset Fig. x) recovers Jiaianhualong as the largest known member of the Sapeornis/Jurapteryx clade of birds. Several flightless birds are in this clade. These could be confused with troodontids for that reason. In the LRT the clade Troodontidae include Sinornithoides + Sauronithoides their LCA and all derived taxa. None of these are direct bird ancestors.

Getting back to chemistry
“The bone in Jianianhualong is, as expected rich in calcium and phosphorus, corresponding mineralogically to apatite. The regions where feather remains can be observed show an enrichment and correlation pattern of several elements including manganese, titanium, nickel and copper.”

FIgure 2. GIF animation of the skull of Jianianhualong showing original tracing in line art and colorized bones (DGS) used to create a reconstruction (Fig. 3).

FIgure 3. GIF animation of the skull of Jianianhualong showing original tracing in line art and colorized bones (DGS) used to create a reconstruction (Fig. 3).

Jianianhualong is a troodontid-like bird,
not a bird-like troodontid. Note the odd scapula shape, like that in Sapeornis. Note the retrovered pedal digit 1, showing this taxon was derived from perching birds. The tall naris and long tibia are autapomorphies.

Xu et al. 2014 made a headline out of
the asymmetric feathers found with Jianianhualong. In the present context, Jianianhualong is derived from volant ancestors. So asymmetry is expected, not exceptional. This is the earliest known large flightless bird, not an example of the invalid hypothesis of ‘mosaic’ evolution.

Figure 3. Reconstruction of the skull of Jianianhualong based on DGS tracings in figure 2.

Figure 4. Reconstruction of the skull of Jianianhualong based on DGS tracings in figure 2.

Liaoningventor curriei (Shen et al. 2017; DNHM D3012; Early Cretaceous) was also originally described as a non-avian troodontid, but nests with Jianianhualong as a flightless bird.


References
Li J, et al. (8 co-authors 2020. Micro-XRF study of the troodontid dinosaur Jianianhualong tengi reveals new biological and taphonomical signals. bioRxiv 2020.09.07.285833 (preprint) PDF doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.09.07.285833
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.07.285833v1
Shen C-Z, Zhao B, Gao C-L, Lü J-C and Kundrat 2017. A New Troodontid Dinosaur (Liaoningvenator curriei gen. et sp. nov.) from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation in Western Liaoning Province. Acta Geoscientica Sinica 38(3):359-371.
Xu X, Currie P, Pittman M, Xing L, Meng QW-J, Lü J-C, Hu D and Yu C-Y 2017. Mosaic evolution in an asymmetrically feathered troodontid dinosaur with transitional features. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14972.

wiki/Sapeornis
wiki/Jianianhualong
wiki/Liaoningvenator

The clade Troodontidae: Who’s in and who’s out?

Summary for those in a hurry:
Compared to traditional taxon lists (Figs. 3, 4), the LRT taxon list for the Troondontidae is greatly reduced (Fig. 2). That means many traditional troodontids nest elsewhere.

We start today with a new taxon.
Zanabazar junior (Norell et al. 2009, originally Sauronithoides junior Barsbold 1975; IGM 100/1; est. 2.3m long, 27cm skull length; Fig. 1), is a late-surviving (Late Cretaceous) basal troodontid in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1274+ taxa; subset Fig. 2). The specimen includes a nearly complete skull and braincase, part of the pelvis, some tail vertebrae, and parts of the right hindlimb. The teeth are relatively small.

Figure 1. Skull of Zanazabar from Digimorph.org and used with permission. Bones are colored here.

Figure 1. Skull of Zanabazar from Digimorph.org and used with permission. Bones are colored here.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on theropods leading to birds, including the two newest additions, Bambiraptor and Zanabazar.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on theropods leading to birds, including the Troodontidae and the two newest additions, Bambiraptor and Zanabazar.

Prior to the LRT
authors nested Zanabazar as a highly derived troodontid (Figs. 3, 4).

Figure 2. Current cladograms of the Troodontidae currently found in Wikipedia pages.

Figure 3. Current cladograms of the Troodontidae currently found in Wikipedia pages.

Those other authors
also nested LRT pre-bird anchiornithids (Sinovenator, Almas, Daliansaurus, Sinusonasus, Jinfengopteryx) and one scansoriopterygid bird (Mei) in the Troodontidae (Fig. 4). Prior authors include several taxa known from scrappy data that will not be tested in the LRT. These include Talos, Byronosaurus, Troodon, IGM 100/44, Linhevenator, and Philovenator.

Figure 2. Wikipedia cladogram from Shen et al. 2017. Overlay limits LRT Troodontidae to the taxa in the white box.

Figure 4. Wikipedia cladogram from Shen et al. 2017. Overlay limits LRT Troodontidae to the taxa in the white box. Others are in the bird lineage.

On the other hand,
the LRT (Fig. 2) includes troodontid taxa not included or nested elsewhere (e.g. Rhamphocephalus, Haplocheirus, Shuvuuia, Halszkaraptor). Readers will note that several of these taxa are alvarezsaurids that now nest within the Troodontidae in the LRT. This is a novel hypothesis of interrelationships. If there is another prior citation, please let me know so that can be promoted.

According to Wikipedia
“During most of the 20th century, troodontid fossils were few and incomplete and they have therefore been allied, at various times, with many dinosaurian lineages.” By contrast, most taxa included in the LRT are largely complete.

Wikipedia continues:
“More recent fossil discoveries of complete and articulated specimens (including specimens which preserve feathers, eggs, embryos, and complete juveniles), have helped to increase understanding about this group.” None of these sorts of taxa currently in the Troodontidae in the LRT (Fig. 2).

The first question is:
What is the definition of Troodontidae?

Looking for a definition online @ yourdictionary.com
“Any member of a family (Troodontidae) of small, bird-like theropod dinosaurs with large brains, large eyes, and a retractable claw on the second toe of each hind foot, similar to a farmer’s sickle, used for slashing at prey.”

This is a trait-based definition, subject to convergence. We call this “Pulling a Larry Martin.” Only a phylogenetic nesting in a wide gamut cladogram can determine what is and what is not a troodontid and that starts with a definition of the clade.

According to Wikipedia (Troodon) 
“the entire genus is based only on a single tooth.” and this tooth has been considered to belong to a wide variety of Reptilia. “Phil Currie, reviewing the pertinent specimens in 1987, showed that supposed differences in tooth and jaw structure among troodontids and saurornithoidids were based on age and position of the tooth in the jaw, rather than a difference in species.”

So, there’s a definite problem
in defining both Troodon and the Troodontidae. Even so, the theropoddatabase.com has compiled a few that may prove useful.

  1. Troodontidae = Troodon formosus (Gilmore 1924)
  2. Troodontidae = Troodon formosus, Saurornithoides mongoliensis, Borogovia gracilicrus, Sinornithoides youngi but not Ornithomimus velox, Oviraptor philoceratops) (Varricchio 1997)
  3. Troodontoidea Troodon + Saurornithoides (Livezey and Zusi 2007)

What these definitions have in common
are the more completely known taxa, Sinornithoides, Sauronithoides and Zanabazar. Let’s make these, plus their last common ancestor. our working definition. Let’s assume, until proven wrong, that Troodon is similar in most respects. Given these parameters many taxa leave the clade Troodontidae and nest within the bird-line of anchiornithids or within birds (Fig. 2).

FIgure 5. Gobivenator is the most completely known troodontid. It nests with Zanabazar in the LRT.

FIgure 5. Gobivenator is the most completely known troodontid. It nests with Zanabazar in the LRT.

Figure 6. Gobivenator skull, colors added here.

Figure 6. Gobivenator skull, colors added here.

Gobivenator, the most completely known troodontid,
(Fig. 5, 6) was added to the LRT just an hour ago, nesting alongside Zanabazar with very few scoring differences. So, Gobivenator was not forgotten.

Figure 2. Mei long compared to the BSP 1999 I 50, Munich specimen of Archaeopteryx and Scansoriopteryx to scale. Click to enlarge.

Figure 7. Mei long is a scansoriopterygid bird in the LRT. Yes it has small hands and could not fly, but the rest of its traits nest Mei within the bird clade.

Mei
(Fig. 7) nests not with troodontids in the LRT, but with the bird clade scansoriopterygids, between the private #12 Archaeopteryx specimen and Yi qi. Yes, it has small hands and could not fly (like Struthio the ostrich). Moving Mei to the troodontids adds 23 steps. Reversals do happen. A few traits compete against a larger suite. Let your software determine where a taxon nests and make sure you include enough taxa to let convergence happen.

Wikipedia – Mei long reports:
“It is most closely related to the troodontid Sinovenator, which places it near the base of the troodontid family.” In the LRT, Sinovenator (Fig. 8) is not in the Troodontidae, but nests in proximal bird outgroup clades. Moving Mei long to Sinovenator adds 19 steps to the LRT. Taxon exclusion has so far kept Mei long apart from other scansoriopteryids everywhere but here.

Figure 8. Sinovenator nests with anchiornithid birds in the LRT.

Figure 8. Sinovenator nests with anchiornithid birds in the LRT.Likewise,
Sinovenator nests not with troodontids in the LRT, but with the pre-bird anchiornithids, between Almas (Fig. 9) and the BMNHC PH804 specimen of Anchiornis.

The LRT documents a fast track for the origin of birds
from the last common ancestor of Bambiraptor + Zanabazar that leads to the following series of taxa: Anchiornis, Daliansaurus (Fig. 9), Almas, the Daiting specimen of Archaeopteryx, Xiaotingia and the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx, the last known common ancestor of all birds in the LRT.

Figure 1. Daliansaurus and the origin of birds through Almas and Xiaotingia.

Figure 9. Daliansaurus and the origin of birds through Almas and Xiaotingia.

Daliansaurus liaoningensis 
(Shen et al. 2017; Early Cretaceous, Barremian, 128 mya; 1 m long) nests in the LRT as a basal anchiornithid, not a troodontid.

Almas ukhaa
(Pei et al. 2017; Campanian, Late Cretaceous, IGM 100/1323) nests in the LRT as a basal anchiornithid, not a troodontid.

Several lineages approached and experimented with the bird grade
(e.g. Rahonavis, Microraptor, the Daiting specimen of Archaeopteryx), but only one lineage starting with the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx created robustly volant and extant birds.

In the LRT,
the reduced clade memberships of Troodontids indicate they are a splinter group,
closer to Bambiraptor + Velociraptor. That combined clade (Fig. 2) is a splinter group to the smaller compsognathids and anchiornithids lineage that led more directly to birds (Fig. 9).


References
Barsbold R 1974. Saurornithoididae, a new family of small theropod dinosaurs from Central Asia and North America. Palaeontologica Polonica. 30: 5−22.
Norell MA et al. 2009. A review of the Mongolian Cretaceous dinosaur Saurornithoides (Troodontidae, Theropoda). American Museum Novitates (3654): 1−63.

wiki/Zanabazar_junior
wiki/Gobivenator
wiki/Troodontidae
wiki/Alvarezsauridae
wiki/Daliansaurus
wiki/Almas_ukhaa

Wulong: a new troodontid, not a microraptor-dromaeosaur

Poust et al. 2020
bring us news of a small, subadult theropod with some interesting traits, Wulong bohaiensis (Early Cretaceous; D2933). They considered the specimen a microraptorine dromaeosaurid.

Figure 1. Wulong in situ, plus the original published diagram.

Figure 1. Wulong in situ, plus the original published diagram. The specimen is somewhat surrounded by a few coprolites = cop.

By contrast, 
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1637+ taxa) nests Wulong among similar, small, long-legged troodontids, between Buitreraptor and Caihong. While this topology differs from that of other workers, the same can be said of nearly every clade in the LRT. That’s why this blog has been self-labeled ‘heretical’.

Figure 2. Wulong skull, original diagram, DGS colors applied to bones and reconstruction based on the DGS tracings.

Figure 2. Wulong skull, original diagram, DGS colors applied to bones and reconstruction based on the DGS tracings.

So, why the different views?
That appears to be due to taxon exclusion. There is no indication in the text that Buitreraptor and Caihong were included in analysisThere is no indication that the authors created a reconstruction, which helps identify bones, their ratios and proportion in crushed taxa like Wulong. More importantly…

Figure 4. Wukong manus DGS tracing and reconstruction. Note the 180º rotation of the manus relative to the radius and ulna.

Figure 4. Wukong manus DGS tracing and reconstruction. Note the 180º rotation of the manus relative to the radius and ulna.

… several taxa converge on birds
and small feathered theropods converge with each other in the LRT. The differences between the clades should not be determined by a few traits (= Pulling a Larry Martin), but here are gleaned after phylogenetic analysis of several hundred traits. As mentioned earlier, you can’t nest a specimen within a clade by a small number of cherry-picked traits because there is so much convergence within the Tetrapoda. Rather, run an analysis and find out which taxon is the last common ancestor of a derived clade. Those, then, are the validated clade members.

Figure 3. Wulong pelvis.

Figure 3. Wulong pelvis.

Figure 4. Wulong pedes, original tracing and reconstruction based on DGS tracings.

Figure 4. Wulong pedes, original tracing and reconstruction based on DGS tracings.

Uniquely
the coracoid is fenestrated in the middle. The ilium includes a prepubis process. Some feathers are preserved.

The authors report,
“Wulong is distinguished by several autapomorphic features and additionally, has many characteristics that distinguish it from its closest well-known relatives. Compared with Tianyuraptor and Zhenyuanlong, Wulong is small and its forelimbs are proportionally long.”

By contrast,
in the LRT Tianyuraptor and Zhenyuanlong are not related to troodontids, microraptorids or dromaoeosaurids. Tianyuraptor and Zhenyuanlong are basal to tyrannosaurids.

References
Poust AW, Gao C-L, Varricchio DJ, Wu J-L and Zhang F-J 2020. A new microraptorine theropod from the Jehol Biota and growth in early dromaeosaurids. The Anatomical Record. American Association for Anatomy. DOI: 10.1002/ar.24343

New view on ‘Paravians’: Agnolin et al. 2019

Agnolin et al. 2019 produced
a new view of early bird and pre-bird relationships. They write, “We here present a review of the taxonomic composition and main anatomical characteristics of those theropod families closely related with early birds, with the aim of analyzing and discussing the main competing hypotheses pertaining to avian origins. We reject the postulated troodontid affinities of anchiornithines, and the dromaeosaurid affinities of microraptorians and unenlagiids, and instead place these groups as successive sister taxa to Avialae.”

By contrast
in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1401 taxa; subset Fig. 1) some troodontids are basal to anchiornithines, which are basal to avians. Other traditional troodontids are not basal to birds and pre-birds.

Agnolin et al. report, “Regarding character evolution, we found that: (1) the presence of an ossified sternum goes hand in hand with that of ossified uncinate processes; (2) the presence of foldable forelimbs in basal archosaurs indicates widespread distribution of this trait among reptiles, contradicting previous proposals that forelimb folding driven by propatagial and associated tendons was exclusive to the avian lineage; (3) in basal paravians and avialans (e.g., Archaeopteryx, Anchiornis) the wings are relatively large and wide, with relatively short rectricial feathers, a rounded alar contour, and a convex leading margin. These taxa exhibit restricted forelimb folding capability with respect to more derived birds, their hands being preserved at angles of flexion (with respect to the radius/ulna) of no less than 90. In more derived birds, however, the rectrices are notably elongate and the angle between the hand and forearm is much less than 90, indicating not only increased forelimb folding capability but also an increased variety of wingbeat movements during flight. Because of the strong similarities in pectoral girdle configuration between ratites and basal avialans and paravians, it is possible to infer that the main forelimb movements were similar in all these taxa, lacking the complex dorsoventral wing excursion characteristic of living neognathans.”

Unfortunately
Agnolin et al. presented a cladogram that was largely unresolved. According to the LRT that loss of resolution can be attributed to one thing: exclusion of taxa. Key taxa missing from the Agnolin et al. tree include:

  1. Compsognathus (both species)
  2. Ornitholestes
  3. The other ten or so ‘Archaeopteryx’ specimens

With the addition of these key taxa theropods (including pre-birds and birds) become completely resolved in the LRT (subset Fig. 1).

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names, from an earlier blog post.

References
Agnolin FL et al. (4 co-authors) 2019. Paravian phylogeny and the dinosaur-bird transition: an overview. Frontiers in Earth Science 6:252.
doi: 10.3389/feart.2018.00252

Anchiornis or not? And what about Pedopenna?

Xu et al. 2009
described a new genus, Anchiornis huxleyi IVPP V14378 (the holotype), along with LPM-B00169A, BMNHC PH828 as referred specimens), from the Late Jurassic of China. Two of these (Fig. 1) were added to the large reptile tree (LRT, 1315 taxa, subset Fig. 2). They nest in the LRT in the clade traditionally considered Troodontidae, between Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx. (Note other traditional troodontids, like Sinornithoides and Sauronithoides, do not nest in this pre-bird clade, but within the Haplocheirus clade.

Last year
a paper by Pei et al. 2017 described “new specimens of Anchiornis huxleyi. Two of these (Fig. 1) were also added to the LRT (subset in Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Four specimens attributed to Anchiornis. Two of these nest apart from two others (see figure 2).

Figure 1. Four specimens attributed to Anchiornis along with two others related to Anchiornis, but given different names. Two of these Anchiornis specimen nest apart from two others (see figure 2).

In the LRT
only two of the four tested Anchiornis specimens nested together (one was the holotype). That means the two other specimens were originally mislabeled. Moreover, a specimen attributed to a separate genus, Jinfengopteryx, nests with the holotype of Anchiornis and a referred specimen.

So do a few of the referred specimens need to be renamed? Perhaps so. Beyond the distinctly different skulls (Fig. 1), various aspects of the post-crania are also divergent.

Figure 2. Cladogram of taxa surrounding four specimens attributed to Anchiornis, which do not nest together in the LRT.

Figure 2. Cladogram of taxa surrounding four specimens attributed to Anchiornis, which do not nest together in the LRT. The holotype is the IVPP specimen in a darker tone and white arrowhead.

Pedopenna daohugouensis
(Xu and Zhang 2005; IVPP V 12721, Fig. 3) is a fossil theropod foot with long stiff feathers from the Middle or Late Jurassic, 164mya.

According to Wikipedeia
“Pedopenna was originally classified as a paravian, the group of maniraptoran dinosaurs that includes both deinonychosaurs and avialans (the lineage including modern birds), but some scientists have classified it as a true avialan more closely related to modern birds than to deinonychosaurs.”

Figure 1. Pedopenna in situ. Very little is known of this specimen.

Figure 3. Pedopenna in situ. The large alphanumerics are original. The color is added here. Very little is known of this specimen, but clearly long feathers arise from the metatarsus.

The first step
in figuring out what Pedopenna is, is to create a clear reconstruction (Fig. 4). Only then will we be able to score the pedal elements in the LRT.

Figure 2. Pedopenna in situ and reconstructed using DGS techniques.

Figure 4. Pedopenna in situ and reconstructed using DGS techniques.

Surprisingly,
and despite the relatively few pedal traits, the LRT is able to nest Pedopenna between and among the several Anchiornis specimens (Fig. 5). Specifically it nests between the holotype IVPP specimen and the LPM specimen. So is Pedopenna really Anchiornis? Or do all these taxa, other than the holotype, need their own generic names?

Figure 3. Where feathers on the foot are preserved on the LRT.

Figure 5. Where feathers on the foot are preserved on the LRT.

Earlier we looked at the development of foot feathers to aid in stability in pre-birds and other bird-like taxa just learning to flap and fly, convergent with uropatagia in pre-volant pterosaur ancestors.

A note to Anchiornis workers:
Try to test all your specimens in a phylogenetic analysis for confirmation, refutation or modification of the above recovery. Pei et al. considered all the specimens conspecific. They are not conspecific, as one look at their skulls alone (Fig. 1) will tell the casual observer.

References
Pei R, Li Q-G, Meng Q-J, Norell MA and Gao K-Q 2017. New specimens of Anchiornis huxleyi (Theropoda: Paraves) from the Late Jurassic of Northeastern China. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 411:66pp.
Xu X, Zhao Q, Norell M, Sullivan C, Hone D, Erickson G, Wang X, Han F and Guo Y 2009. A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil that fills a morphological gap in avian origin. Chinese Science Bulletin 54 (3): 430–435. doi:10.1007/s11434-009-0009-6
Xu X and Zhang F 2005. A new maniraptoran dinosaur from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Naturwissenschaften. 92 (4): 173–177. doi:10.1007/s00114-004-0604-y.

wiki/Pedopenna

 

SVP 2018: Hindlimb feathers useful as brood covers in oviraptorids?

Hopp and Orsen 2018
bring a novel and well documented hypothesis to light: “Here we present evidence gleaned from our studies of a number of fossils that possess hind-limb feathers, as well as two examples of nesting Citipati. Two well preserved individuals sitting on nests with large egg clutches (IGM-100/979, IGM-100/1004) clearly demonstrate a lack of complete coverage of the eggs by the animals’ bodies and limbs. We previously showed that pennaceous feathers would have aided the coverage of eggs near the ulna and manus. We also noted a deficiency of egg coverage at the rear quarters laterally adjacent to the pelvis and tail. Here we demonstrate how pennaceous feathers, recently described on the tibiae and tarsi of several non-flying theropods and some primitive birds as well, could have served very effectively to cover eggs in these rear quarter positions.”

FIgure 1. From Zheng et al. 2013 showing the maximum extent of hind leg feathers in Anchiornis.

FIgure 1. From Zheng et al. 2013 showing the maximum extent of hind leg feathers in Anchiornis. Pedopenna nests with Anchiornis.

Excellent hypothesis. But…
Zheng et al. 2013 also studied this problem. They wrote, “parallel pennaceous feathers are preserved along the distal half of the tibiotarsus and nearly the whole length of the metatarsus in each hindlimb [of Sapeornis]. The feathers are nearly perpendicular to the tibiotarsus and metatarsus in orientation and form a planar surface as in some basal deinonychosaurs with large leg feathers.”

Zheng et al. 2013 also report similar leg and/or foot feathers are found in
“Basal deinonychosaurians (= Microraptor), the basal avialan Epidexipteryx, Sapeornis, confuciusornithids, and enantiornithines. In these taxa, the femoral and crural feathers are large, and in most cases they are pennaceous feathers that have curved rachises and extend nearly perpendicular to the limbs to form a planar surface.”

The distribution of foot feathers
in theropods in the large reptile tree (LRT, subset Fig. 2) is shown in blue (cyan). Few included taxa preserve feathers. The question is: do foot feathers appear, then disappear, then reappear? Or do all intervening taxa have foot feathers?

Figure 3. Where feathers on the foot are preserved on the LRT.

Figure 2. Where feathers on the foot are preserved on the LRT.

Back to the brooding question:
Citipati is an oviraptorid and oviraptorids are outside of the occurrences of foot feathers in theropods in the LRT. Note: all specimens with foot feathers are a magnitude smaller than oviraptorids. Hopp and Orsen do not differentiate (in their abstract, I did not see their presentation) between tibial feathers and foot feathers. Citipati nests outside of the current phylogenetic bracket for foot feathers. Tibial feathers have a much wider distribution in fossils. Tibial feathers are more likely to be present in Citipati, but note: tibial and foot feathers are not present in Caudipteryx (Fig. 3) an oviraptorid sister in the LRT .

Figure 3. Caudipteryx preserves forelimb and tail feathers, but no leg or foot feathers. It nests with oviraptorids in the LRT.

Figure 3. Caudipteryx preserves forelimb and tail feathers, but no leg or foot feathers. It nests with oviraptorids in the LRT.

Back to the question of pennaceous hind limb feathers in pre-birds:
Here’s one answer, perhaps convergent with the presence of large uropatagia in flapping, but non-volant fenestrasaurs (like Cosesaurus Fig. 4). And look at the long legs and large uropatagia of the basalmost pterosaur, Bergamodactylus (Fig. 4)! It was just learning how to flap and fly and could use a little aerodynamic help in keeping steady.

When pre-birds, like Anchiornis,
and other convergent theropods, like Microraptor, first experimented with flapping and leaving the ground, they were necessarily new at it, not perfect at coordinated symmetrical flapping. Perhaps pre-birds used a bit of aerodynamic stabilization in the form of hind limb feathers as they phylogenetically became better and better at flapping, then flying. Tibial and foot feathers may have provided that aerodynamic stability, acting like vertical stabilizers in most airplanes. Exceptionally, present-day flying wing-type airplanes no longer require a vertical stabilizer because computers assist the pilot in controlling the aircraft, just as modern birds control flight without vertical stabilizers. That’s because modern birds with unfeathered feet have established neural networks not present or only tentatively present in pre-birds.

Figure 1. Bergamodactylus compared to Cosesaurus. Hypothetical hatchling also shown.

Figure 4. Bergamodactylus compared to Cosesaurus. Hypothetical hatchling also shown. Look at those large uropatagia. Those are for stability in this student pilot, not yet as coordinated as in later, more derived pterosaurs.

References
Hopp TP and Orsen MJ 2018. Evidence that ‘four-winged’ paravian dinosaurs may have used hindlimb feathers for brooding.” SVP abstracts.
Hu D, Hou L, Zhang L and Xu X 2009. A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Nature 461(7264):640-3. doi: 10.1038/nature08322.
Longrich N 2006. Structure and function of hindlimb feathers in Archaeopteryx lithographica. Paleobiology 32 (3), 417-431
Xu X and Zhang F 2005. A new maniraptoran dinosaur from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Naturwissenschaften. 92(4): 173–177.
Zhang F-C and Zhou Z-H 2004. Palaeontology: Leg feathers in an Early Cretaceous bird. Nature 431, 925(2004). doi:10.1038/431925a
Zheng X-T et al. 2013. Hind wings in basal birds and the evolution of leg feathers. Science 339:1309-1312. DOI: 10.1126/science.1228753

SVP 2018: Stages in the origin of avian flight

Hartman, Mortimer and Lovelace 2018
reconstruct the origin of avian flight in a series of stages:

  1. Acquisition of theropod characters unrelated to avian flight, including bipedalism, three fingered hands, a furcula, and filamentous epidermal structures.
  2. Acquisition of characters directly exapted for flight such as enlarged forelimbs, pennaceous feathers on the forelimbs and tail, increased angle between scapula and distal coracoid, and laterally facing glenoid fossae.
  3. Characters acquired due to aerial locomotion, including tertial feathers, expansion of the flight stroke and associated muscles, and in more derived taxa an alula and reduction of the distal caudal series to a pygostyle.
  4. Characters associated with higher endurance crown avian-style flight including enlarged keeled sterna, hinged sternal ribs, loss of gastralia, and well-developed caudal air sacs.

Figure 1. Xiaotingia, the proximal outgroup to the Thermopolis specimen of Solnhofen birds, the basalmost bird.

Figure 1. Xiaotingia, the proximal outgroup to the Thermopolis specimen of Solnhofen birds, the basalmost bird.

Based on the outgroup taxon, Xiaotingia
(Fig. 1) and the basalmost Solnhofen bird, the Thermopolis specimen, missing from the above list of traits are:

  1. phylogenetic miniaturization
  2. more gracile bones overall
  3. a smaller skull
  4. a more gracile neck
  5. a longer tail
  6. an elongate coronoid, which signals the start of flapping
  7. a larger olecranon process
  8. avian-style wrist
  9. a more robust retro pedal digit 1 with a larger ungual

Hartman, Mortimer and Lovelace conclude:
“Stage 2 taxa with small body size and enlarged forelimbs may have utilized wing assisted incline running (WAIR) to access trees despite lacking unambiguously arboreal characters, breaking the ground-up/trees-down dichotomy.” Yes, but this seems like old news as Ken Dial published the same conclusion in 2003. Where in the author’s list is the elongate coracoid common to all flapping tetrapods? …and found in non-avian convergent micro raptors and sinornithosaurs?

…and the authors continue:
“Several Stage 2 taxa independently approached Stage 3 conditions, including some
microraptorians, Rahonavis, Archaeopteryx and scansoriopterygids; this suggests that
WAIR enabled several parallel experiments with aerial locomotion.” Good points first noted in the LRT, except that scansoriopterygids are birds when more Solnhofen birds are added to the taxon list. (Need to consider all Solnhofen birds as taxa, not just have one and label it Archaeopteryx). T-rex ancestor, Zhenyuanlong might also be added to this list, given its large wing feathers.

References
Dial KP 2003. Wing-assisted incline running and the evolution of flight.  Science 299:402-404.
Hartman S, Mortimer M and Lovelace DM 2018. A testable macroevolutionary framework for character acquisition in the origin of avian flight. SVP abstracts.

The Daiting specimen is not Archaeopteryx

Today
a break from a review of the SVP 2018 abstracts.

A new paper by Kundrát, et al. 2018
re-describes the Daiting specimen (Tischlinger 2009) attributed to Archaeopteryx and given a specific name A. albersdorfi (SNSB BSPG VN-2010/1Kundrát et al. 2018, Late Jurassic, Lower Tithonian; Figs. 1, 2). 

Figure 1. The Daiting specimen attributed to Archaeopteryx in white and UV light. Note the short coracoid. This is not a flapping tetrapod.

Figure 1. The Daiting specimen attributed to Archaeopteryx in white and UV light. Note the short coracoid. This is not a flapping tetrapod.

The skull of the Daiting specimen
is newly reconstructed here (Fig. 2). The former postorbital is now the squamosal. The former squamosal is here identified as three bones layers atop one another. The bones of the mandible are newly interpreted here.

Figure 2. The skull of the Daiting specimen wrongly attributed to Archaeopteryx reconstructed from µCT scans.

Figure 2. The skull of the Daiting specimen wrongly attributed to Archaeopteryx reconstructed from µCT scans. Some bones are reidentified here.

Unfortunately,
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1313 taxa; subset Fig. 3) nests the Daiting specimen outside of the birds, between Sinovenator and Xiaotingia.

Figure 3. Subset of the LRT focusing on basal birds and pre-bird theropods. Note many of the various Solnhofen birds nest apart from one another and the Daiting specimen nests outside the birds (Aves).

Figure 3. Subset of the LRT focusing on basal birds and pre-bird theropods. Note many of the various Solnhofen birds nest apart from one another and the Daiting specimen nests outside the birds (Aves). Preview: note the nesting of the four included Anchiornis specimens. 

Kundrát et al. provided several cladograms
based on data sets provided by Xu et al. 2011; Turner et al. 2012 and Godefroit et al. 2013. They “unanimously resolved [the Daiting specimen] as both a basal avialan and an archaeopterygid, but does not unequivocally discriminate between a paraphyletic or monophyletic Archaeopteryx.” 

  1. Xu et al. 2011 cladogram: nests the Daiting specimen between Anchiornis + Xiaotingia and Archaeopteryx + Wellnhoferia, all derived from SapeornisYanornis clade.
  2. Xu et al. 2011cladogram (Xiaotingia deleted): nests the Daiting specimen between a SapeornisYanornis clade and Archaeopteryx + Wellnhoferia,
  3. Turner et al. 2012 cladogram: nests the Daiting specimen basal to a different Sapeornis clade, all derived from Archaeopteryx.
  4. Turner et al. 2012 cladogram (3 taxa deleted): nests the Daiting specimen basal to a different Sapeornis clade, all derived from Archaeopteryx.
  5. Godefroit et al. 2013 cladogram: nests the Daiting specimen with Archaeopteryx, basal to the BalaurRahonavis clade, all derived from Xiaotingia.

Not all of the nodes in the above cladograms
include a gradual accumulation of traits in all derived taxa.

Kundrát et al. report:
“Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi is the only Bavarian archaeopterygid that exhibits co-ossification of the carpals and metacarpals, differing from modern flying birds in that the distal postaxial carpal (usually missing – perhaps cartilaginous – in other archaeopterygid specimens; (Wellnhofer 2009)) co-ossified with the metacarpal of the major digit rather than with the semilunate and postaxialmetacarpal.”

“The most noteworthy feature of Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi is that it accummulated several characteristics of maturity (discussed above) during the juvenile period of ontogeny that were not seen either in smaller or in larger specimens of Archaeopteryx lithographica.”

The coracoids of the Daiting specimen
are still rather disc-like in appearance, not strap-like as in Xiaotingia and birds. The Daiting specimen was not a flapping taxon, or not a good flapping taxon. That comes at the next node.

Figure 4. Pectoral girdle of the Daiting specimen wrongly attributed to Archaeopteryx showing the clavicle (cv=furcula), scapula (sc), and the disc-like coracoids (co). Strap-like coracoids occur in more derived taxa and this shape marks the genesis of flapping.

Figure 4. Pectoral girdle of the Daiting specimen wrongly attributed to Archaeopteryx showing the clavicle (cv=furcula), scapula (sc), and the disc-like coracoids (co). Strap-like coracoids occur in more derived taxa and this shape marks the genesis of flapping.

Earlier we looked at the variety of taxa present in Solnhofen birds,
(Fig. 3, 5) all of which have been called Archaeopteryx at their first publication. Later authors have renamed several of them. Remember, you can’t determine a genus or species without the context of a phylogenetic analysis.

Figure 3. Several Solnhofen birds, including Archaeopteryx, compared to Ostromia to scale.

Figure 5. Several Solnhofen birds, including Archaeopteryx, compared to Ostromia to scale.

References
Kundrát M, Nudds J, Kear BP, Lü J-C and Ahlberg P 2018. The first specimen of Archaeopteryx from the Upper Jurassic Mörnsheim Formation of Germany. Historical Biology 31(1):3-63.
Tischlinger H 2009. Der achte Archaeopteryx – das Daitinger Exemplar. Archaeopteryx. 27:1–20.
Wellnhofer P 2009. Archaeopteryx—the Icon of Evolution. München: Friedrich Pfeil.

“Kinematics of wings from Caudipteryx to modern birds”: Talori et al. 2018

A new paper without peer-review by Talori, Zhao and O’Connor 2018
seeks to “better quantify the parameters that drove the evolution of flight from non-volant winged dinosaurs to modern birds.”

Unfortunately
they employ Caudipteryx, an oviraptorosaur. They correctly state,
Currently it is nearly universally accepted that Aves belongs to the derived clade of theropod dinosaurs, the Maniraptora.” They incorrectly state, “The oviraptorosaur Caudipteryx is a member of this clade and the basal-most  maniraptoran with pennaceous feathers.” In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1269 taxa) oviraptorosaurs nest with therizinosaurus, and more distantly ornithomimosaurs. This clade is separated from bird ancestor troodontids by the Ornitholestes/Microraptor clade.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Figure 1. Caudipterys is in the peach-colored clade, far from the lineage of birds.

The Talori team
mathematically modeled Caudipteryx with three hypothetical wing sizes, but failed to provide evidence that the Caudipteryx wing was capable of flapping. In all flapping tetrapods the elongation of the coracoid  (or in bats of the clavicle) signals the onset of flapping… and Caudipteryx does not have an elongate coracoid. Rather, it remains a disc.

So, no matter the math, or the accuracy of the mechanical model,
the phylogeny is not valid and the assumption of flapping is inappropriate. It would have been better if they had chosen a troodontid and several Solnhofen birds to test.

Tossing those issues aside,
the Talori team did an excellent job of setting their mechanical model (which could be a troodontid) in a wind tunnel, extracting data from three different wing shapes and presenting their findings. Feathers would have been more flexible than their mold manufactured wings, but the effort is laudable.

References
Zhao J-S, Talori YS, O’Connor J-M 2018. Kinematics of wings from Caudipteryx to modern birds. [not peer-reviewed] bioRXiv
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/08/16/393686

http://reptileevolution.com/reptile-tree.htm

Caihong: the iridescent Jurassic troodontid

The preservation in situ is spectacular,
(Figs. 1, 2), but probably pales in comparison to the in vivo appearance of early Late Jurassic Caihong juju (PMoL-B00175 (Paleontological Museum of Liaoning, 161 mya), a new troodontid theropod dinosaur, which includes iridescent feathers.

Figure 1. Skull of Caihong from Hu et al. 2018.

Figure 1. Skull of Caihong from Hu et al. 2018. Arrow points to bony lacrimal crest/protuberance. At a screen resolution of 72 dpi this image of a 6cm long skull is about twice life size.

Caihong differs from other theropods

  1. Accessory fenestra posteroventral to promaxillary fenestra
  2. Lacrimal with prominent dorsolaterally oriented crests
  3. Robust dentary with anterior tip dorsoventrally deeper than its midsection
  4. Short ilium (<50% of the femoral length, compared to considerably >50% in other theropods).

Furthermore,
Caihong shows the earliest asymmetrical feathers and proportionally long forearms in the theropod fossil record. But the coracoids remained short discs. So it was not flapping those long feathered arms. It had extensively feathered toes. (Remember, chicken leg scales are former feathers and otherwise birds are naked beneath their feathers.)

About that unique lacrimal crest…
Note that the parietal has taphonomically moved anterior to the frontal. That’s odd, but it sets up another possibility for that elliptical crest bone. Look how it would precisely fit into the space created by the posterior parietal in dorsal view (Fig. 1). More precise, higher resolution data might provide some insight into this possibility.

Figure 2. Caihong overall in situ. This taxon nests better with Buitraptor, not Xiaotingia.

Figure 2. Caihong overall in situ. This taxon nests better with Buitraptor, not Xiaotingia.

Hu et al. nested Caihong
as a basal deinonyychosaur with the coeval Xiaotingia outside of the Troodontidae, but inside of the clade that includes two Solnhofen birds (only Archaeopteryx and Wellnhoferia). Microraptor, Dromaeosaurus and Rahonavis and others. The cladogram nests long-snouted Buitreraptor with Rahonavis and Unenlagia in an unresolved sister clade to the Xiaotingia/Caihong clade. Only a few nodes had Bootstrap scores higher than 50 and the nodes proximal to Caihong are not among them.

By contrast
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1153 taxa) nests long-snouted Caihong with even longer-snouted Buitreraptor in the troodontid clade that includes Anchiornis and Aurornis, basal to more derived troodontids and ‘Later’ Jurassic Solnhofen birds. Rahonavis and Microraptor nest with therizinosaurs and ornitholestids respectively.

Figure 1. Buitreraptor skull with bones and missing bones colorized.

Figure 3. Buitreraptor skull with bones and missing bones colorized. This skull is over 3x the size of Caihong.

Aurornis (Fig. 4) was basal, Caihong was transitional and Buitreraptor was derived in this clade of small troodontids with increasingly longer rostra.

Figure 1. Eosinopteryx and kin, including Xiaotingia, Aurornis and Archaeopteryx (Thermopolis).

Figure 4. Eosinopteryx and kin, including Xiaotingia, Aurornis and Archaeopteryx (Thermopolis).

Caihong may share these ‘unique’ traits
which are damaged in Buitreraptor. 

  1. Accessory fenestra posteroventral to promaxillary fenestra
  2. Lacrimal with prominent dorsolaterally oriented crests
  3. Robust dentary with anterior tip dorsoventrally deeper than its midsection
  4. Short ilium (<50% of the femoral length, compared to considerably >50% in other theropods).

References
Hu et al. (9 co-authors) 2018. A bony-crested Jurassic dinosaur with evidence of iridescent plumage highlights complexity in early par avian evolution. Nature.com/Nature Communications, 12 pp.  DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02515-y