Reassessment of the wing feathers of Archaeopteryx lithographica suggests no robust evidence for the presence of elongated dorsal wing coverts.
ABSTRACT: Recently it was proposed that the primary feathers of Archaeopteryx lithographica (HMN1880) were overlaid by long covert feathers, and that a multilayered feathered wing was a feature of early fossils with feathered forelimbs. The proposed long covert feathers of Archaeopteryx were previously interpreted as dorsally displaced remiges or a second set of impressions made by the wing. The following study shows that the qualitative arguments forwarded in support of the elongated covert hypothesis are neither robust nor supported quantitatively. The idea that the extant bird wing with its single layer of overlapping primaries evolved from an earlier multilayered heavily coveted feathered forelimb as seen in Anchiornis huxleyi is reasonable. At this juncture, however, it is premature to conclude unequivocally that the wing of Archaeopteryx consisted of primary feathers overlaid with elongated coverts.
Project description:Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx's wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.
Project description:The historic fossil feather from the Jurassic Solnhofen has played a pivotal but controversial role in our evolutionary understanding of dinosaurs and birds. Recently, a study confirmed the diagnostic morphology of the feather’s original calamus, but nonetheless challenged the proposed identity as an Archaeopteryx covert. However, there are errors in the results and interpretations presented. Here we show that the feather is most likely an upper major primary covert, based on its long calamus (23.3% total length) and eight other anatomical attributes. Critically, this hypothesis is independently supported by evidence of similar primary coverts in multiple specimens of Archaeopteryx–including from the same fossil site and horizon as the isolated feather. We also provide additional insights, such as an updated colour reconstruction of the entire feather as matte black, with 90% probability. Given the isolated nature of the fossil feather, we can never know the anatomical and taxonomic provenance with 100% certainty. However, based on all available evidence, the most empirical and parsimonious conclusion is that this feather represents a primary covert from the ancient wing of Archaeopteryx.
Project description:In 1862, a fossil feather from the Solnhofen quarries was described as the holotype of the iconic Archaeopteryx lithographica. The isolated feather's identification has been problematic, and the fossil was considered either a primary, secondary or, most recently, a primary covert. The specimen is surrounded by the 'mystery of the missing quill'. The calamus described in the original paper is unseen today, even under x-ray fluorescence and UV imaging, challenging its original existence. We answer this question using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) through the recovery of the geochemical halo from the original calamus matching the published description. Our study therefore shows that new techniques applied to well-studied iconic fossils can still provide valuable insights. The morphology of the complete feather excludes it as a primary, secondary or tail feather of Archaeopteryx. However, it could be a covert or a contour feather, especially since the latter are not well known in Archaeopteryx. The possibility remains that it stems from a different feathered dinosaur that lived in the Solnhofen Archipelago. The most recent analysis of the isolated feather considers it to be a primary covert. If this is the case, it lacks a distinct s-shaped centerline found in modern primary coverts that appears to be documented here for the first time.
Project description:Avian wing shape has been related to flight performance, migration, foraging behaviour and display. Historically, linear measurements of the feathered aerofoil and skeletal proportions have been used to describe this shape. While the distribution of covert feathers, layered over the anterior wing, has long been assumed to contribute to aerofoil properties, to our knowledge no previous studies of trends in avian wing shape assessed their variation. Here, these trends are explored using a geometric-morphometric approach with landmarks describing the wing outline as well as the extent of dorsal and ventral covert feathers for 105 avian species. We find that most of the observed variation is explained by phylogeny and ecology but shows only a weak relationship with previously described flight style categories, wing loading and an investigated set of aerodynamic variables. Most of the recovered variation is in greater primary covert feather extent, followed by secondary feather length and the shape of the wing tip. Although often considered a plastic character strongly linked to flight style, the estimated ancestral wing morphology is found to be generally conservative among basal parts of most major avian lineages. The radiation of birds is characterized by successive diversification into largely distinct areas of morphospace. However, aquatic taxa show convergence in feathering despite differences in flight style, and songbirds move into a region of morphospace also occupied by basal taxa but at markedly different body sizes. These results have implications for the proposed inference of flight style in extinct taxa.
Project description:Evolution of flight in maniraptoran dinosaurs is marked by the acquisition of distinct avian characters, such as feathers, as seen in Archaeopteryx from the Solnhofen limestone. These rare fossils were pivotal in confirming the dinosauria-avian lineage. One of the key derived avian characters is the possession of feathers, details of which were remarkably preserved in the Lagerstätte environment. These structures were previously simply assumed to be impressions; however, a detailed chemical analysis has, until now, never been completed on any Archaeopteryx specimen. Here we present chemical imaging via synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF) of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx, which shows that portions of the feathers are not impressions but are in fact remnant body fossil structures, maintaining elemental compositions that are completely different from the embedding geological matrix. Our results indicate phosphorous and sulfur retention in soft tissue as well as trace metal (Zn and Cu) retention in bone. Other previously unknown chemical details of Archaeopteryx are also revealed in this study including: bone chemistry, taphonomy (fossilization process), and curation artifacts. SRS-XRF represents a major advancement in the study of the life chemistry and fossilization processes of Archaeopteryx and other extinct organisms because it is now practical to image the chemistry of large specimens rapidly at concentration levels of parts per million. This technique has wider application to the archaeological, forensic, and biological sciences, enabling the mapping of "unseen" compounds critical to understanding biological structures, modes of preservation, and environmental context.
Project description:Archaeopteryx is the oldest and most primitive known bird (Avialae). It is believed that the growth and energetic physiology of basalmost birds such as Archaeopteryx were inherited in their entirety from non-avialan dinosaurs. This hypothesis predicts that the long bones in these birds formed using rapidly growing, well-vascularized woven tissue typical of non-avialan dinosaurs.We report that Archaeopteryx long bones are composed of nearly avascular parallel-fibered bone. This is among the slowest growing osseous tissues and is common in ectothermic reptiles. These findings dispute the hypothesis that non-avialan dinosaur growth and physiology were inherited in totality by the first birds. Examining these findings in a phylogenetic context required intensive sampling of outgroup dinosaurs and basalmost birds. Our results demonstrate the presence of a scale-dependent maniraptoran histological continuum that Archaeopteryx and other basalmost birds follow. Growth analysis for Archaeopteryx suggests that these animals showed exponential growth rates like non-avialan dinosaurs, three times slower than living precocial birds, but still within the lowermost range for all endothermic vertebrates.The unexpected histology of Archaeopteryx and other basalmost birds is actually consistent with retention of the phylogenetically earlier paravian dinosaur condition when size is considered. The first birds were simply feathered dinosaurs with respect to growth and energetic physiology. The evolution of the novel pattern in modern forms occurred later in the group's history.
Project description:Microraptor gui, a four-winged dromaeosaur from the Early Cretaceous of China, provides strong evidence for an arboreal-gliding origin of avian flight. It possessed asymmetric flight feathers not only on the manus but also on the pes. A previously published reconstruction shows that the hindwing of Microraptor supported by a laterally extended leg would have formed a second pair of wings in tetrapteryx fashion. However, this wing design conflicts with known theropod limb joints that entail a parasagittal posture of the hindlimb. Here, we offer an alternative planform of the hindwing of Microraptor that is concordant with its feather orientation for producing lift and normal theropod hindlimb posture. In this reconstruction, the wings of Microraptor could have resembled a staggered biplane configuration during flight, where the forewing formed the dorsal wing and the metatarsal wing formed the ventral one. The contour feathers on the tibia were positioned posteriorly, oriented in a vertical plane for streamlining that would reduce the drag considerably. Leg feathers are present in many fossil dromaeosaurs, early birds, and living raptors, and they play an important role in flight during catching and carrying prey. A computer simulation of the flight performance of Microraptor suggests that its biplane wings were adapted for undulatory "phugoid" gliding between trees, where the horizontal feathered tail offered additional lift and stability and controlled pitch. Like the Wright 1903 Flyer, Microraptor, a gliding relative of early birds, took to the air with two sets of wings.
Project description:Sexual selection and aerodynamic forces affecting structural properties of the flight feathers of birds are poorly understood. Here, we compared the structural features of the innermost primary wing feather (P1) and the sexually dimorphic outermost (Ta6) and monomorphic second outermost (Ta5) tail feathers of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) from a Romanian population to investigate how sexual selection and resistance to aerodynamic forces affect structural differences among these feathers. Furthermore, we compared structural properties of Ta6 of barn swallows from six European populations. Finally, we determined the relationship between feather growth bars width (GBW) and the structural properties of tail feathers. The structure of P1 indicates strong resistance against aerodynamic forces, while the narrow rachis, low vane density and low bending stiffness of tail feathers suggest reduced resistance against airflow. The highly elongated Ta6 is characterized by structural modifications such as large rachis width and increased barbule density in relation to the less elongated Ta5, which can be explained by increased length and/or high aerodynamic forces acting at the leading tail edge. However, these changes in Ta6 structure do not allow for full compensation of elongation, as reflected by the reduced bending stiffness of Ta6. Ta6 elongation in males resulted in feathers with reduced resistance, as shown by the low barb density and reduced bending stiffness compared to females. The inconsistency in sexual dimorphism and in change in quality traits of Ta6 among six European populations shows that multiple factors may contribute to shaping population differences. In general, the difference in quality traits between tail feathers cannot be explained by the GBW of feathers. Our results show that the material and structural properties of wing and tail feathers of barn swallows change as a result of aerodynamic forces and sexual selection, although the result of these changes can be contrasting.
Project description:Birds usually moult their feathers in a particular sequence which may incur aerodynamic, physiological and behavioural implications. Among birds, hummingbirds are unique species in their sustained hovering flight. Because hummingbirds frequently hover-feed, they must maintain sufficiently high flight capacities even when moulting their flight feathers. A hummingbird wing consists of 10 primary flight feathers whose absence during moult may strongly affect wing performance. Using dynamic similarity rules, we compared time-accurate aerodynamic loads and flow field measurements over several wing geometries that follow the natural feather moult sequence of Calypte anna, a common hummingbird species in western North America. Our results suggest a drop of more than 20% in lift production during the early stages of the moult sequence in which mid-wing flight feathers are moulted. We also found that the wing's ability to generate lift strongly depended on the morphological integrity of the outer primaries and leading-edge. These findings may explain the evolution of wing morphology and moult attributes. Specifically, the high overlap between adjacent wing feathers, especially at the wing tip, and the slow sequential replacement of the wing feathers result in a relatively small reduction in wing surface area during moult with limited aerodynamic implications. We present power and efficiency analyses for hover flight during moult under several plausible scenarios, suggesting that body mass reduction could be a compensatory mechanism that preserves the energetic costs of hover flight.
Project description:We report the effects of posture and morphology on the static aerodynamic stability and control effectiveness of physical models based on the feathered dinosaur, [Formula: see text]Microraptor gui, from the Cretaceous of China. Postures had similar lift and drag coefficients and were broadly similar when simplified metrics of gliding were considered, but they exhibited different stability characteristics depending on the position of the legs and the presence of feathers on the legs and the tail. Both stability and the function of appendages in generating maneuvering forces and torques changed as the glide angle or angle of attack were changed. These are significant because they represent an aerial environment that may have shifted during the evolution of directed aerial descent and other aerial behaviors. Certain movements were particularly effective (symmetric movements of the wings and tail in pitch, asymmetric wing movements, some tail movements). Other appendages altered their function from creating yaws at high angle of attack to rolls at low angle of attack, or reversed their function entirely. While [Formula: see text]M. gui lived after [Formula: see text]Archaeopteryx and likely represents a side experiment with feathered morphology, the general patterns of stability and control effectiveness suggested from the manipulations of forelimb, hindlimb and tail morphology here may help understand the evolution of flight control aerodynamics in vertebrates. Though these results rest on a single specimen, as further fossils with different morphologies are tested, the findings here could be applied in a phylogenetic context to reveal biomechanical constraints on extinct flyers arising from the need to maneuver.