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SAPE Proceedings: papers of mass distraction



The recently published Proceedings of the 6th
Symposium of the Society of Avian Paleontology &
Evolution, eds., Zhonghe Zhou & Fucheng Zhang
(Beijing: Science Press), 311pp, has reached me...and
I have spent hours perusing each paper...and am
thankful to Zhonghe Zhou for sending it. And yet.
I'm afraid that my threshold for tolerance of some of
what passes for paleo/ornithology is not as heightened
as possessed by others...ever since the 1800s, taxa
have been established and "diagnosed" not by rigorous
methods of comparisons, but on the basis of "x is
similar to but larger/smaller than y"...meaning,
often, "families" and taxa derived from, let us be
honest, isolated pedal elements, fragments of other
parts of the skeleton, plesiomorphies, etc. This is a
simplification, I confess, but there appears to be a
time-lag between the applicability  of rigorous
phylogenetic systematics and paleo/ornithology. The
recent paper by Alan Brush and Dick Prum, and Dick's
paper in The Auk, and Jacques Gauthier/Gall's volume,
Gregory Paul's DINOSAURS OF THE AIR...well, I think
one gets an idea of what I am alluding to: cogent,
quite exciting elaborations of ongoing processes of
analysis.
The SAPE volume, beautifully printed with excellent
reproductions of photographs and line drawings...is
rather uneven.
1) Kenneth Campbell/Alison Stenger's new species of
Teratornis (the feathered flapper squawking and
arising from the dead tyrannosaur's head in 1933 when
it saw Jack Driscoll) is interesting, but could more
material;
2) Marco Pavia/Cecile Mourer-Chauvier's purported owl,
Athene trinacriae is "diagnosed" on the basis of
descriptive comparisons of disarticulated  limb
elements,  not on any one can use to examine
relationalities (PAUP is not used in this paper, and
some of the volume's contributors need an
introduction);
3) Jorge Noriega/Herculano Alvarenga on Tertiary
anhingas from South America, refreshingly, does not
erect new taxa on the basis of no evidence;
4) Jorgie Noriega's paper on other material of
Macranhinga paranensis remains leaves me unconvinced
that rigorous analyses are not long overdue;
5) Gerald Mayr...the most interesting scholar working
with Middle Eocene taxa (his numerous papers are to be
perused with keen appreciation), continues with an
interesting survey of (albeit disarticulated)
well-preserved skeletal elements.
6) Cecile Mourer-Chauvire's paper on alleged
cathartids from the Eocene/Oligocene is depressing in
it being caught in a time warp of giving names to snow
flakes;
7) David Parris/Sylvia Hope (see # 6) could have
presented an exegesis of bone fragments, but why
clutter the literature with yet another nomen dubium?
8) Sankar Chatterjee's paper is, likely, the most
important paper in the volume, an end Cretaceous,
Antarctic Peninsula loon with a skull and partial
skeleton, Polarornis gregorii, subjected to PAUP 3.1.
Its positioning within late Cretaceous clades needs
further investigation;
9) Larry Martin/Jong-Deock Lim could have discussed
hesperorniths historically (it has long been my hope
that Julia Clarke can be convinced to examine these
taxa with the same vigor and thoroughness she brought
to Ichthyornis theropods)...alas, indeterminate bones
given names;
10) The  paper by Junchang Lui, Zhiming Dong, Yoichi
Azuma, Rinchen Barsbold, and Yukimitsu Tomida on
"Oviraptorosaurs compared to birds" is fascinating,
and, perhaps, Mickey Mortimer or Tom Holtz can be
convinced to examine the paper's PAUP data matrix and
compare it to their work for correction/elaboration.
The authors believe "oviraptorosaurs are group of
flightless birds" [sic]...but since Aves is a clade
within Dinosauria, and all "birds" are theropods, the
authors' attempts to, somehow, disassociate "birds"
from "dinosaurs" is one of those endlessly frustrating
semantic roller coasters;
11) Virginia Naples, Larry Martin, John Simmons "The
pelvis in early birds and dinosaurs" cling to the
illusion that, somewhere in the fossil corridors of
the Triassic, exists a feathered, flying non-dinosaur
common ancestor to reverse 300+ synapomorphies linking
Aves within and to Theropoda;
12) Andrzej Elzanowski briefly examines the various
scenarios of ground up/tree down adaptations. However,
I believe in multi-origins for various stages of
flight and secondary flightlessness, not either/or
paradigms;
13) Dominique Homberger in her paper here, and in 
other papers, insists Aves arose from early Triassic
"ecologically and locomotorily polyvalent, lizard-like
reptilian ancestor", that no dinosaur possessed
feathers because their "skin is devoid of dermal
muscles", and "birds" are not dinosaurs because "the
evolutionary origin of the avian lineages from small,
behaviorally and ecologically generalized lizard-like
reptilian ancestors is biologically more realiistic
than an origin from ancestors that are either
specialized terrestrial bipeds or speicialized
arboreal qudrupeds". I finished reading this paper,
and my first thought was: am I not in 2002, and have I
not seen, since John Ostrom's 1974 initial work, over
1200 feathered theropods; and, since I do not
hallucinate, is this paper a humorous exercise in
science fiction, or does she believe this nonsense?
14) The short paper by Jose L. Sanz et al. "Wing
loading in primitive birds" is concise and not given
to the Alice-in-Wonderland excursions of Ms.
Homberger.


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