Go fish! Ancient birds evolved specialist diving adaptations

A new study of some primitive birds from the Cretaceous shows how several separate lineages evolved adaptations for diving.

Living at the same time as the dinosaurs, Hesperornithiform bird fossils have been found in North America, Europe and Asia in rocks 65–95 million years old. Dr Alyssa Bell and Professor Luis Chiappe of the Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, publishing in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, have undertaken a detailed analysis of their evolution, showing that separate lineages (see Fig.1 below) became progressively more adept at diving into water to catch fishes, like modern day loons and grebes.

Fig. 1 Evolution of diving specializations within the Hesperornithiformes.

The Hesperornithiformes are a highly derived but very understudied group of primitive birds from the Cretaceous period. This study is the first comprehensive phylogenetic analysis, or evaluation of evolutionary relationships, to ever be undertaken on the entire group.

The results of this study confirm that the Hesperornithiformes do form a single group (or clade), but that within this group the inter-relationships of the different taxa are more complex than previously thought. Additionally, this study finds that anatomical changes were accompanied by enlargement in overall body size, which increased lung capacity and allowed deeper diving.

Overall, this study provides evidence for understanding the evolution of diving adaptations among the earliest known aquatic birds.


NOTE TO JOURNALISTS AND EDITORS

Please reference the article as “A species-level phylogeny of the Cretaceous Hesperornithiformes (Aves: Ornithuromorpha): implications for body size evolution amongst the earliest diving birds”, by Alyssa Bell and Luis M. Chiappe, Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 2015, published by Taylor & Francis Group. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14772019.2015.1036141


For more information please contact:

Alan Crompton

Earth Science, Palaeontology and Water Science Journals, Taylor & Francis
Contact email: alan.crompton@tandf.co.uk


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About Us

Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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This study provides evidence for understanding the evolution of diving adaptations among the earliest known aquatic birds.
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