Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Bird-Like Dinosaur Settles Origins of Flight


Reconstruction of Aurornis xui, a new basal avialan from the Middle/Late Jurassic of China.

Feathered dinosaurs used to be as valuable as gold dust. Now, so many specimens have been unearthed that museums are overflowing. But for all the specimens, a crucial question has remained unanswered: which species was the original ancestor of birds?

A new species found in China has shed light on the answer. The two-foot long Aurornis xui, the “daybreak bird,” fleshes out the relationships between bird-like dinosaurs and, along with its cousin species Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis, restores its lineage as the likely predecessors of birds.

The early relationships of a group called Avialae, the dinosaur line leading directly to modern birds, have been a hot point of debate. Over the last few years, with new bird-like dinosaur discoveries, some palaeontologists have even removed the iconic Archaeopteryx and its relatives from the Avialae group altogether. However, this shift would have meant that powered flight evolved multiple times in feathered dinosaurs, a less likely situation than one such adaptation.

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