The most complete enantiornithine from North America and a phylogenetic analysis of the Avisauridae.
ABSTRACT: The most complete known North American enantiornithine was collected in 1992 but never formally described. The so-called "Kaiparowits avisaurid" remains one of the most exceptional Late Cretaceous enantiornithine fossils. We recognize this specimen as a new taxon, Mirarce eatoni (gen. et sp. nov.), and provide a complete anatomical description. We maintain that the specimen is referable to the Avisauridae, a clade previously only known in North America from isolated tarsometatarsi. Information from this specimen helps to clarify evolutionary trends within the Enantiornithes. Its large body size supports previously observed trends toward larger body mass in the Late Cretaceous. However, trends toward increased fusion of compound elements across the clade as a whole are weak compared to the Ornithuromorpha. The new specimen reveals for the first time the presence of remige papillae in the enantiornithines, indicating this feature was evolved in parallel to dromaeosaurids and derived ornithuromorphs. Although morphology of the pygostyle and (to a lesser degree) the coracoid and manus appear to remain fairly static during the 65 million years plus of enantiornithine evolution, by the end of the Mesozoic at least some enantiornithine birds had evolved several features convergent with the Neornithes including a deeply keeled sternum, a narrow furcula with a short hypocleidium, and ulnar quill knobs-all features that indicate refinement of the flight apparatus and increased aerial abilities. We conduct the first cladistic analysis to include all purported avisuarid enantiornithines, recovering an Avisauridae consisting of a dichotomy between North and South American taxa. Based on morphological observations and supported by cladistic analysis, we demonstrate Avisaurus to be paraphyletic and erect a new genus for "A. gloriae," Gettyia gen. nov.
Project description:Enantiornithes are the most successful clade of Mesozoic birds. Here, we describe a new enantiornithine bird, Cruralispennia multidonta gen. et sp. nov., from the Protopteryx-horizon of the Early Cretaceous Huajiying Formation of China. Despite being among the oldest known enantiornithines, Cruralispennia displays derived morphologies that are unexpected at such an early stage in the evolution of this clade. A plough-shaped pygostyle, like that of the Ornithuromorpha, evolved convergently in the Cruralispennia lineage, highlighting the homoplastic nature of early avian evolution. The extremely slender coracoid morphology was previously unknown among Early Cretaceous enantiornithines but is common in Late Cretaceous taxa, indicating that by 131 million years ago this clade had already experienced considerable morphological differentiation. Cruralispennia preserves unusual crural feathers that are proximally wire-like with filamentous distal tips, a new morphotype previously unknown among fossil or modern feathers, further increasing the known diversity of primitive feather morphologies.
Project description:We describe a new enantiornithine bird, Parapengornis eurycaudatus gen. et sp. nov. from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning, China. Although morphologically similar to previously described pengornithids Pengornis houi, Pengornis IVPP V18632, and Eopengornis martini, morphological differences indicate it represents a new taxon of the Pengornithidae. Based on new information from this specimen we reassign IVPP V18632 to Parapengornis sp. The well preserved pygostyle of the new specimen elucidates the morphology of this element for the clade, which is unique in pengornithids among Mesozoic birds. Similarities with modern scansores such as woodpeckers may indicate a specialized vertical climbing and clinging behavior that has not previously been inferred for early birds. The new specimen preserves a pair of fully pennaceous rachis-dominated feathers like those in the holotype of Eopengornis martini; together with the unique morphology of the pygostyle, this discovery lends evidence to early hypotheses that rachis-dominated feathers may have had a functional significance. This discovery adds to the diversity of ecological niches occupied by enantiornithines and if correct reveals are remarkable amount of locomotive differentiation among Enantiornithes.
Project description:The midline pattern of sternal ossification characteristic of the Cretaceous enantiornithine birds is unique among the Ornithodira, the group containing birds, nonavian dinosaurs and pterosaurs. This has been suggested to indicate that Enantiornithes is not the sister group of Ornithuromorpha, the clade that includes living birds and their close relatives, which would imply rampant convergence in many nonsternal features between enantiornithines and ornithuromorphs. However, detailed comparisons reveal greater similarity between neornithine (i.e. crown group bird) and enantiornithine modes of sternal ossification than previously recognized. Furthermore, a new subadult enantiornithine specimen demonstrates that sternal ossification followed a more typically ornithodiran pattern in basal members of the clade. This new specimen, referable to the Pengornithidae, indicates that the unique ossification pattern observed in other juvenile enantiornithines is derived within Enantiornithes. A similar but clearly distinct pattern appears to have evolved in parallel in the ornithuromorph lineage. The atypical mode of sternal ossification in some derived enantiornithines should be regarded as an autapomorphic condition rather than an indication that enantiornithines are not close relatives of ornithuromorphs. Based on what is known about molecular mechanisms for morphogenesis and the possible selective advantages, the parallel shifts to midline ossification that took place in derived enantiornithines and living neognathous birds appear to have been related to the development of a large ventral keel, which is only present in ornithuromorphs and enantiornithines. Midline ossification can serve to medially reinforce the sternum at a relatively early ontogenetic stage, which would have been especially beneficial during the protracted development of the superprecocial Cretaceous enantiornithines.
Project description:Here we report on three new species of ornithuromorph birds from the Lower Cretaceous Xiagou Formation in the Changma Basin of Gansu Province, northwestern China: Yumenornis huangi gen. et sp. nov., Changmaornis houi gen. et sp. nov., and Jiuquanornis niui gen. et sp. nov.. The last of these is based on a previously published but unnamed specimen: GSGM-05-CM-021. Although incomplete, the specimens can be clearly distinguished from each other and from Gansus yumenensis Hou and Liu, 1984. Phylogenetic analysis resolves the three new taxa as basal ornithuromorphs. This study reveals previously unrecognized ornithuromorph diversity in the Changma avifauna, which is largely dominated by Gansus but with at least three other ornithuromorphs. Body mass estimates demonstrate that enantiornithines were much smaller than ornithuromorphs in the Changma avifauna. In addition, Changma enantiornithines preserve long and recurved pedal unguals, suggesting an arboreal lifestyle; in contrast, Changma ornithuromorphs tend to show terrestrial or even aquatic adaptions. Similar differences in body mass and ecology are also observed in the Jehol avifauna in northeastern China, suggesting niche partitioning between these two clades developed early in their evolutionary history.
Project description:Mosasauroids are conventionally conceived of as gigantic, obligatorily aquatic marine lizards (1000s of specimens from marine deposited rocks) with a cosmopolitan distribution in the Late Cretaceous (90-65 million years ago [mya]) oceans and seas of the world. Here we report on the fossilized remains of numerous individuals (small juveniles to large adults) of a new taxon, Pannoniasaurus inexpectatus gen. et sp. nov. from the Csehbánya Formation, Hungary (Santonian, Upper Cretaceous, 85.3-83.5 mya) that represent the first known mosasauroid that lived in freshwater environments. Previous to this find, only one specimen of a marine mosasauroid, cf. Plioplatecarpus sp., is known from non-marine rocks in Western Canada. Pannoniasaurus inexpectatus gen. et sp. nov. uniquely possesses a plesiomorphic pelvic anatomy, a non-mosasauroid but pontosaur-like tail osteology, possibly limbs like a terrestrial lizard, and a flattened, crocodile-like skull. Cladistic analysis reconstructs P. inexpectatus in a new clade of mosasauroids: (Pannoniasaurus (Tethysaurus (Yaguarasaurus, Russellosaurus))). P. inexpectatus is part of a mixed terrestrial and freshwater faunal assemblage that includes fishes, amphibians turtles, terrestrial lizards, crocodiles, pterosaurs, dinosaurs and birds.
Project description:Preserved indicators of diet are extremely rare in the fossil record; even more so is unequivocal direct evidence for predator-prey relationships. Here, we report on a unique specimen of the small nonavian theropod Microraptor gui from the Early Cretaceous Jehol biota, China, which has the remains of an adult enantiornithine bird preserved in its abdomen, most likely not scavenged, but captured and consumed by the dinosaur. We provide direct evidence for the dietary preferences of Microraptor and a nonavian dinosaur feeding on a bird. Further, because Jehol enantiornithines were distinctly arboreal, in contrast to their cursorial ornithurine counterparts, this fossil suggests that Microraptor hunted in trees thereby supporting inferences that this taxon was also an arborealist, and provides further support for the arboreality of basal dromaeosaurids.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The origin of hadrosaurid dinosaurs is far from clear, mainly due to the paucity of their early Late Cretaceous close relatives. Compared to numerous Early Cretaceous basal hadrosauroids, which are mainly from Eastern Asia, only six early Late Cretaceous (pre-Campanian) basal hadrosauroids have been found: three from Asia and three from North America. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Here we describe a new hadrosauroid dinosaur, Yunganglong datongensis gen. et sp. nov., from the early Late Cretaceous Zhumapu Formation of Shanxi Province in northern China. The new taxon is represented by an associated but disarticulated partial adult skeleton including the caudodorsal part of the skull. Cladistic analysis and comparative studies show that Yunganglong represents one of the most basal Late Cretaceous hadrosauroids and is diagnosed by a unique combination of features in its skull and femur. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The discovery of Yunganglong adds another record of basal Hadrosauroidea in the early Late Cretaceous, and helps to elucidate the origin and evolution of Hadrosauridae.
Project description:Fossils of juvenile Mesozoic birds provide insight into the early evolution of avian development, however such fossils are rare. The analysis of the ossification sequence in these early-branching birds has the potential to address important questions about their comparative developmental biology and to help understand their morphological evolution and ecological differentiation. Here we report on an early juvenile enantiornithine specimen from the Early Cretaceous of Europe, which sheds new light on the osteogenesis in this most species-rich clade of Mesozoic birds. Consisting of a nearly complete skeleton, it is amongst the smallest known Mesozoic avian fossils representing post-hatching stages of development. Comparisons between this new specimen and other known early juvenile enantiornithines support a clade-wide asynchronous pattern of osteogenesis in the sternum and the vertebral column, and strongly indicate that the hatchlings of these phylogenetically basal birds varied greatly in size and tempo of skeletal maturation.
Project description:A new double-armoured herring of the clupeomorph order Ellimmichthyiformes, Eoellimmichthys superstes gen. et sp. nov., is described herein based on a single partially complete specimen from the early Eocene Pesciara site of the Bolca Konservat-Lagerstätte, north-eastern Italy. The fossil documented herein exhibits a unique combination of features (e.g. ornamentation of the skull bones; medial fusion of the contralateral halves of the neural arches of abdominal vertebrae; teeth on endopterygoid, parhypural fused to the first preural centrum; presence of a short series of 6 (or 7) predorsal scutes increasing in size posteriorly; postpelvic scutes bearing very prominent spines), which clearly supports its recognition as a new genus and species of the family Paraclupeidae. Evidence is provided to show that Eoellimmichthys gen. nov. is most closely related phylogenetically to the Early Cretaceous genus Ellimmichthys. The new taxon described herein represents the youngest marine occurrence of the family Paraclupeidae and, more generally, of the order Ellimmichthyiformes, suggesting that the shallow marine settings of the Tethys might have favoured the persistence of certain fish lineages that were severely affected by the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.