Hesperornithoides miessleri (Figs. 1, 2; Late Jurassic, Wyoming, USA; Hartman et al. 2019; WYDICE-DML-001 (formerly WDC DML-001)) is the newest fanged anchiornithid theropod dinosaur to be described, compared and nested (Figs. 3, 4).
From the Hartman et al. abstract
“Limb proportions firmly establish Hesperornithoides as occupying a terrestrial, non-volant lifestyle. Our phylogenetic analysis emphasizes extensive taxonomic sampling and robust character construction, recovering the new taxon most parsimoniously as a troodontid close to Daliansaurus, Xixiasaurus, and Sinusonasus.” [see Figure 3, note: Xixiasaurus is not listed in their cladogram].
“All parsimonious results support the hypothesis that each early paravian clade was plesiomorphically flightless, raising the possibility that avian flight originated as late as the Late Jurassic or Early Cretaceous.” [this is an old hypothesis dating back to the discovery of Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx in the 1860s and it remains a well-established paradigm.]
The cladogram by Hartman et al. 2017
(Fig. 3) is similar to one published by Lefevre et al. 2017 in nesting birds (Avialae) as outgroups to the Dromaeosauridae + Troodontidae, the opposite of the large reptile tree (LRT, 1540 taxa, subset Fig. 4).
we’ll compare the Hartman et al. nesting (Fig. 3) to the one recovered by the LRT (Fig. 4).
The Hartman et al. cladogram
(Fig. 3) nested Hesperornithoides with Sinusonasus (IVPP V 11527, Xu and Wang 2004; Early Cretacaceous, Fig. 1), as in the LRT (Fig. 4).
The Hartman et al. cladogram included several taxa not previously included in LRT, 1540 taxa, subset Fig. 4), so I added five to the LRT.
- Hesperornithoides (Fig. 1) – sister to Sinusonasus in both cladograms
- Sinusonasus (Fig. 1) – sister to Hesperornithoides in both cladograms
- Daliansaurus (Fig. 5) – nearby outgroup taxon in both cladograms
- Alma (Fig. 6) – more distant outgroup taxon in both cladograms
- Protarchaeopteryx (Fig. 7) – primitive oviraptorid in both cladograms
Issues arise in the Hartman et al. cladogram
- Birds arise from the proximal outgroup, Oviraptorosauria
- Archaeopteryx is not in the lineage of modern and Cretaceous birds
- Anchiornithid troodontids are scattered about
- Balaur nests with birds
- Microraptors and basal tyrannosaurs nest with dromaeosaurids
- The outgroup taxon in figure 3 is: Compsognathus; in the SuppData: Dilophosaurus. Neither is a Triassic theropod.
- Running the .nex file results in thousands of MPTs (most parsimonious trees), even when pruned down to well-known, largely articulated taxa. Their phylogenetic analysis included 700 characters (and that means hundreds of less-than-complete taxa) tested against 501 taxa. Changing the outgroup taxon to Sinocalliopteryx resulted in far fewer MPTs, but see here for more validated outgroup taxa. Hartman et al. reported, “The analysis resulted in >99999 most parsimonious trees.” Essentially useless… and they knew that attempting to publish their report.
in the LRT (Fig. 4):
- The cladogram is fully resolved (1 MPT).
- Birds, including Archaeopteryx and 12 other Solnhofen bird-like taxa arise from anchiornithids, which arise from troodontids (including dromaeosaurids), which arise from Ornitholestes and kin, which arise from the CNJ79 specimen attributed to Compsognathus and kin (including therzinosaurs + oviraptorids), which arises from the holotype Compsognathus and kin (including ornithomimosaurs and tyrannosaurs).
- Double killler-clawed Balaur nests with Velociraptor, not with birds.
- The outgroup taxa in the LRT include the Triassic dinosaurs, Herrerasaurus, Tawa and a long list going back to Silurian jawless fish.
- Hesperornithoides (Fig. 1) and Sinusonasus (Fig. 1) nest with another anchiornithid with fewer teeth and one elongated canine, Caihong (Fig. 1) and a long list of other shared traits. Caihong has a full set of bird-like feathers, so less well-preserved Hesperornithoides likely shared this trait. Caihong nests closer to Archaeopteryx in the Hartman et al. cladogram.
A few suggestions for Hartman et al. 2019
- Build your tree with fewer, but more complete taxa in order to achieve full resolution
- Choose a plesiomorphic Triassic theropod or dinosaur outgroup for your outgroup
- Practice more precision in your reconstructions. Do not freehand anything. Do not add bones where bones are not known.
- Try not to borrow cladograms (like the TWiG dataset) from others, but build your own, especially when the results are so demonstrably poor (>99,999 MPTs)
- Include both Compsognathus specimens. They are different from one another and, apparently, key to understanding interrelationships.
- Include as many of the 13 Solnhofen birds and pre-birds that you can and show reconstructions so we know you understand the materials. Checking individual scores is like going to Indiana Jones’ government warehouse. Note how the Solnhofen birds split apart and nest at the bases of all the derived bird clades in the LRT (Fig. 4).
Hartman et al. report,
“We follow the advice of Jenner (2004) that authors should attempt to include all previously proposed characters and terminal taxa, while explicitly justifying omissions. To this end we have attempted to include every character from all TWiG papers published through 2012, with the goal to continually add characters.”
As their results demonstrate, such efforts are a waste of time.
Pertinent taxa and suitable outgroup taxa were overlooked. The goal is full resolution and understanding. If incomplete taxa and too many characters prevent you from reaching this goal, start pruning, or start digging into the data. There is only one tree topology in Deep Time. Our job is to find it.
I sincerely hope this review of Hartman et al. 2019
is helpful. The LRT confirms their nesting of Hesperornithoides with Sinusonasus. Outside of that the two cladograms diverge radically and only one of these two competing cladograms is fully resolved with a gradual accumulation of traits at every node.
Hartman S, Mortimer M, Wahl WR, Lomax DR, Lippincott J and Lovelace DM 2019. A new paravian dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of North America supports a late acquisition of avian flight. PeerJ 7:e7247 DOI 10.7717/peerj.7247
Lefèvre U, Cau A, Cincotta A, Hu D-Y, Chinsamy A,Escuillié F and Godefroit P 2017. A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers. The Science of Nature, 104: 74 (advance online publication). doi:10.1007/s00114-017-1496-y
Xu X and Wang X-l 2004. A New Troodontid (Theropoda: Troodontidae) from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Western Liaoning, China”. Acta Geologica Sinica 78(1): 22-26.