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Old Greenwich, CT, United States

Smith N.D.,Howard University | Smith N.D.,Smithsonian Institution | Ksepka D.T.,Bruce Museum
Palaeontologia Electronica

The "waterbird" assemblage is a group of aquatic and semi-aquatic birds that are characterized by extremely diverse morphologies, ecologies, and life histories. The group also includes fossil representatives that constitute some of the oldest records of Neoaves and are critical to calibrating the temporal diversification of modern birds. Herein, we provide a set of five well-supported fossil calibrations from the waterbird clade that will serve to provide robust temporal calibrations for the origins of: stem Phaethontes (tropicbirds); stem Threskiornithidae (ibises and spoonbills); stem Pelecanidae (pelicans); stem Fregatidae (frigatebirds); and stem Phalacrocoracidae (cormorants). We apply stringent criteria to justify both the phylogenetic placement and geochronologic context of these specimens, and discuss potentially older records to help focus future research and collection. The fossils described here affirm previous studies in recognizing that most major cladogenetic splits within the waterbird assemblage occurred by the Eocene, supporting interpretations of both rapid lineage diversification of waterbirds in the early Paleogene, and also the rapid establishment of body plans and possibly ecologically relevant morphologies during this time period. © Society for Vertebrate Paleontology April 2015. Source

Ksepka D.T.,Bruce Museum
Current Biology

Summary Remarkable feathered dinosaur fossils have blurred the lines between early birds and their non-avian dinosaur relatives. Rapid skeletal evolution and decreasing body size along one particular lineage of theropod dinosaurs paved the way for the spectacular radiation of birds. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Source

Ksepka D.T.,Bruce Museum | Ksepka D.T.,Smithsonian Institution | Werning S.,State University of New York at Stony Brook | Werning S.,Des Moines University | Boles Z.M.,Drexel University
Journal of Anatomy

Substantial changes in bone histology accompany the secondary adaptation to life in the water. This transition is well documented in several lineages of mammals and non-avian reptiles, but has received relatively little attention in birds. This study presents new observations on the long bone microstructure of penguins, based on histological sections from two extant taxa (Spheniscus and Aptenodytes) and eight fossil specimens belonging to stem lineages (†Palaeospheniscus and several indeterminate Eocene taxa). High bone density in penguins results from compaction of the internal cortical tissues, and thus penguin bones are best considered osteosclerotic rather than pachyostotic. Although the oldest specimens sampled in this study represent stages of penguin evolution that occurred at least 25 million years after the loss of flight, major differences in humeral structure were observed between these Eocene stem taxa and extant taxa. This indicates that the modification of flipper bone microstructure continued long after the initial loss of flight in penguins. It is proposed that two key transitions occurred during the shift from the typical hollow avian humerus to the dense osteosclerotic humerus in penguins. First, a reduction of the medullary cavity occurred due to a decrease in the amount of perimedullary osteoclastic activity. Second, a more solid cortex was achieved by compaction. In extant penguins and †Palaeospheniscus, most of the inner cortex is formed by rapid osteogenesis, resulting an initial latticework of woven-fibered bone. Subsequently, open spaces are filled by slower, centripetal deposition of parallel-fibered bone. Eocene stem penguins formed the initial latticework, but the subsequent round of compaction was less complete, and thus open spaces remained in the adult bone. In contrast to the humerus, hindlimb bones from Eocene stem penguins had smaller medullary cavities and thus higher compactness values compared with extant taxa. Although cortical lines of arrested growth have been observed in extant penguins, none was observed in any of the current sampled specimens. Therefore, it is likely that even these 'giant' penguin taxa completed their growth cycle without a major pause in bone deposition, implying that they did not undergo a prolonged fasting interval before reaching adult size. © 2015 Anatomical Society. Source

Ksepka D.T.,Bruce Museum | Phillips M.J.,Queensland University of Technology
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Birds represent the most diverse extant tetrapod clade, with ca. 10,000 extant species, and the timing of the crown avian radiation remains hotly debated. The fossil record supports a primarily Cenozoic radiation of crown birds, whereas molecular divergence dating analyses generally imply that this radiation was well underway during the Cretaceous. Furthermore, substantial differences have been noted between published divergence estimates. These have been variously attributed to clock model, calibration regime, and gene type. One underappreciated phenomenon is that disparity between fossil ages and molecular dates tends to be proportionally greater for shallower nodes in the avian Tree of Life. Here, we explore potential drivers of disparity in avian divergence dates through a set of analyses applying various calibration strategies and coding methods to a mitochondrial genome dataset and an 18-gene nuclear dataset, both sampled across 72 taxa. Our analyses support the occurrence of two deep divergences (i.e., the Palaeognathae/Neognathae split and the Galloanserae/Neoaves split) well within the Cretaceous, followed by a rapid radiation of Neoaves near the K-Pg boundary. However, 95% highest posterior density intervals for most basal divergences in Neoaves cross the boundary, and we emphasize that, barring unreasonably strict prior distributions, distinguishing between a rapid Early Paleocene radiation and a Late Cretaceous radiation may be beyond the resolving power of currently favored divergence dating methods. In contrast to recent observations for placental mammals, constraining all divergences within Neoaves to occur in the Cenozoic does not result in unreasonably high inferred substitution rates. Comparisons of nuclear DNA (nDNA) versus mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) datasets and NT-versus RY-coded mitochondrial data reveal patterns of disparity that are consistent with substitution model misspecifications that result in tree compression/tree extension artifacts, which may explain some discordance between previous divergence estimates based on different sequence types. Comparisons of fully calibrated and nominally calibrated trees support a correlation between body mass and apparent dating error. Overall, our results are consistent with (but do not require) a Paleogene radiation for most major clades of crown birds. Source

Balanoff A.M.,State University of New York at Stony Brook | Bever G.S.,New York Institute of Technology | Colbert M.W.,University of Texas at Austin | Clarke J.A.,University of Texas at Austin | And 8 more authors.
Journal of Anatomy

The rapidly expanding interest in, and availability of, digital tomography data to visualize casts of the vertebrate endocranial cavity housing the brain (endocasts) presents new opportunities and challenges to the field of comparative neuroanatomy. The opportunities are many, ranging from the relatively rapid acquisition of data to the unprecedented ability to integrate critically important fossil taxa. The challenges consist of navigating the logistical barriers that often separate a researcher from high-quality data and minimizing the amount of non-biological variation expressed in endocasts – variation that may confound meaningful and synthetic results. Our purpose here is to outline preferred approaches for acquiring digital tomographic data, converting those data to an endocast, and making those endocasts as meaningful as possible when considered in a comparative context. This review is intended to benefit those just getting started in the field but also serves to initiate further discussion between active endocast researchers regarding the best practices for advancing the discipline. Congruent with the theme of this volume, we draw our examples from birds and the highly encephalized non-avian dinosaurs that comprise closely related outgroups along their phylogenetic stem lineage. © 2015 Anatomical Society Source

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