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Re: Cope's Rule in the Pterosauria - Hone & Benton 2007
"most later [pterosaurs] were probably coastal fish-eaters"
(Hitting head against wall) - really, what is the deal with this idea? 100
years ago, the analogy of pterosaurs as Mesozoic shorebird equivalents would've
stood up, but nowadays, with greater knowledge of pterosaur diversity, it just
doesn't. I admit, all the direct evidence of pterosaur dietary preference
indicates a fishy diet (e.g. Rhamphorhynchus, Eudimorphodon, Pteranodon,
possibly Pterodactylus), but there are compelling anatomical and taphonomic
reasons to think that many pterosaurs, including many from the Late Cretaceous,
were not flapping around shorelines catching fish. Indeed, there's trace fossil
evidence of pterosaurs wading about in fluvial crevasse splay (presumably
swampy) muds from the Campanian of Utah, sticking their beaks in the sediment
looking for tasty infaunal morsels.
Wishing the madness will end,
Palaeobiology Research Group
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Portsmouth
Tel: (44)2392 842418
>>> Tim Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org> 16/05/2007 05:06 >>>
Mike Taylor wrote:
I found this paragraph interesting (from the end of the Discussion)...
"Why were the small pterosaurs lost? It has been suggested (e.g. Unwin,
1987; Penny & Phillips,
2004) that the steady loss of smaller pterosaurs maps neatly on to the
appearance of birds through the Cretaceous. Slack et al. (2006) indicate
this, although they urge caution about making a simple link from matching
events to an assumption of competitive exclusion. Diet suggests that caution
is warranted: most Cretaceous birds were insect-eaters, with some flightless
fish-eaters and shorebirds in the Late Cretaceous, whereas insectivorous
pterosaurs are known only from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, and
most later ones were probably coastal fish-eaters. Further, there was always
a substantial size gap between the largest birds and the smallest birds at
any time. The suggestion that birds somehow drove the pterosaurs towards
large size, and perhaps to final extinction, is currently not supported."
Were most Cretaceous birds really "insect-eaters". I'm not saying the
authors are wrong on this point, but I'm not sure what source(s) they are
citing for this claim. It was my impression that most of the Cretaceous
euornitheans (ornithuromorphs) were aquatic or marine: _Yanornis_,
_Yixianornis_, _Gansus_, _Hongshanornis_, _Archaeorhynchus_, _Ichthyornis_,
Hesperornithiformes. Most of these might have fed on fish (this is certain
for _Yanornis_, based on stomach contents), though _Archaeorhynchus_ might
have been more like a spoonbill in behaviour.
Also, it's known that confuciusornithids included fish in their diet. Among
enantiornitheans, there's AFAIK there's no evidence of insect-eating.
_Longipteryx_ might have been a fish-eater, based on the shape of the bill;
_Longirostravis_ was probably also an aquatic feeder (probing), also based
on bill morphology; _Eoalulavis_ had crustaceans in its stomach; and
_Jeholornis_ had seeds in its stomach. _Nanantius_ might have been a marine
bird, based on the discovery of a _Nanantius_ tibiotarsus in the gut of an
I can't think of a solitary Mesozoic bird for which there is direct or
compelling evidence of insectivory. The closest I've found is Zhou and
Zhang (2007; "Mesozoic birds of China - a synoptic review") who write:
"None of the enantiornithine birds from the Early Cretaceous of China has
preserved direct evidence of their diet. Our conclusion of their diet is
currently inferred from their morphology and the environment they presumably
inhabited. Since most of these small sized birds are equipped with
well*developed conical teeth and arboreal in habit, it is likely they were
mainly insectivorous or omnivorous."
Of course, it would make sense if many Mesozoic birds fed on insects (if not
exclusively, but as part of their diet), beginning with _Archaeopteryx_.
But that's different to saying that we have evidence of insect-eating in
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