Basal paravian functional anatomy illuminated by high-detail body outline
Xiaoli Wang, Michael Pittman, Xiaoting Zheng, Thomas G. Kaye, Amanda R. Falk, Scott A. Hartman & Xing Xu
Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14576 (2017)
Received: 28 September 2016 Accepted: 13 January 2017 Published online: 01 March 2017
Body shape is a fundamental expression of organismal biology, but its quantitative reconstruction in fossil vertebrates is rare. Due to the absence of fossilized soft tissue evidence, the functional consequences of basal paravian body shape and its implications for the origins of avians and flight are not yet fully understood. Here we reconstruct the quantitative body outline of a fossil paravian Anchiornis based on high-definition images of soft tissues revealed by laser-stimulated fluorescence. This body outline confirms patagia-bearing arms, drumstick-shaped legs and a slender tail, features that were probably widespread among paravians. Finely preserved details also reveal similarities in propatagial and footpad form between basal paravians and modern birds, extending their record to the Late Jurassic. The body outline and soft tissue details suggest significant functional decoupling between the legs and tail in at least some basal paravians. The number of seemingly modern propatagial traits hint that feathering was a significant factor in how basal paravians utilized arm, leg and tail function for aerodynamic benefit.
This study was supported by the Dr Stephen S.F. Hui Trust Fund (201403173007), the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong’s General Research Fund (17103315), The Faculty of Science of the University of Hong Kong and the National Science Foundation of China (41688103, 41372014 and 41472023). Rui Pei is thanked for discussions about Supplementary Table 1.
Xiaoli Wang & Michael Pittman
These authors contributed equally to this work
Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Linyi University, Linyi City, Shandong 276005, China
Xiaoli Wang & Xiaoting Zheng
Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China
Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, Pingyi, Shandong 273300, China
Foundation for Scientific Advancement, 7023 Alhambra Drive, Sierra Vista, Arizona 85650, USA
Thomas G. Kaye
Department of Biology, Centre College, 600 West Walnut Street, Danville, Kentucky 40422, USA
Amanda R. Falk
Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Lewis G. Weeks Hall for Geological Sciences, 1215 West Dayton Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1692, USA
Scott A. Hartman
Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100044, China
X.W., M.P., X.Z., T.G.K., A.R.F. and X.X. designed the project. All authors performed the research. M.P., T.G.K., X.W. and X.X. wrote the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Correspondence to Xiaoli Wang or Michael Pittman.