Uncertainties within the evolutionary tree of birds and their closest family members have impeded deeper understanding of early flight in theropods, the group of dinosaurs that features birds. To assist tackle this, a world research led by HKU Analysis Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Pittman (Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, Division of Earth and Planetary Science & Division of Earth Sciences) and co-first-authored by his former Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Rui Pei (now an Affiliate Professor on the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing), produced an up to date evolutionary tree of early birds and their closest family members to reconstruct powered flight potential, displaying it developed at the very least thrice.
Many ancestors of the closest fowl family members neared the thresholds of powered flight potential, suggesting broad experimentation with wing-assisted locomotion earlier than flight developed. The ten-man five-country group printed their findings within the prestigious high-profile journal Present Biology.
“Our revised evolutionary tree helps the normal relationship of dromaeosaurid (“raptors”) and troodontid theropods because the closest family members of birds. It additionally helps the standing of the controversial anchiornithine theropods because the earliest birds,” stated Dr. Pei. With this improved evolutionary tree, the group reconstructed the potential of bird-like theropods for energy flight, utilizing proxies borrowed from the research flight in residing birds.
The group discovered that the potential for powered flight developed at the very least thrice in theropods: as soon as in birds and twice in dromaeosaurids. “The aptitude for gliding flight in some dromaeosaurids is effectively established so us discovering at the very least two origins of powered flight potential amongst dromaeosaurids is de facto thrilling,” stated Dr. Pittman. Crucially, the group discovered that many ancestors of fowl family members neared the thresholds of powered flight potential.
“This means that theropod dinosaurs broadly experimented with the usage of their feathered wings earlier than flight developed, overturning the paradigm that this was restricted to a way more unique membership,” added Dr. Pittman.
This research is the most recent within the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory’s long-term analysis into the evolution of early birds and their closest family members (see Notes). Requested about future plans, Dr. Pittman replied: “Now we have helped to higher constrain the broader practical panorama of theropods simply earlier than flight developed and in its earliest phases. We plan to now give attention to the dromaeosaurids and early birds that now we have proven to have the potential for powered flight to enhance our understanding of what it took to fly and why.”