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Re: New feather-like fossil from the Jurassic of Kazakhstan, Dzik et al 2010

> I take the completely opposite view.  The current
> evo-devo hypothesis
> spearheaded by Prum and Brush appears well supported, with
> evidence
> marshalled from both the fossil record and molecular
> studies. 

... as far as were published back in 1999. Prum & Brush 2002 are certainly not 
so optimistic on the value of the molecular data available even then. But that 
all has changed.

While some parts of the original hypothesis have merit, how would "Stage IIIa" 
and "Stage IIIb" have originated? 

Independently? How then would "Stage IIIa+b" have originated? 

Sequentially? Then "Stage IIIa+b" and the later one of the two others would be 

It does not compute.

> > Undisputable evidence of stages III and IV has not, I
> think, been found yet

See Kellner in Chiappe & Witmer 2002. Actually, the bulk of the fossil record 
seems to be semiplumes and symmetrical vaned feathers and stuff that is 
intermediate between these (i.e. anything from "Stage IIIa" to "Stage IV"). 
Probably 8 in 10 isolated feathers belong in that group. In the absence of any 
good case for BAND, we have to assume that these feathers are all from 
theropods, or at least dinosaurs, as long as this is reasonable. (It is 
perfectly reasonable.)

It is the lack of "Stage II-but-nothing-higher" taxa or even periods in the 
fossil record that is puzzling. Pratt's hypothesis does not square well with 
this, and to invoke absence of evidence will only take one so far. Especially 
as feathers do not fossilize that badly, and the node which separates "Stage 
I-and-perhaps-Stage II" taxa from "anything goes" taxa can be quite well 
pinpointed by now.

> As for the contention that the evo-devo hypothesis is
> teleological,

I didn't make that, and indeed anyone who'd make that would be the teleologist. 
The only way to consider Prum's hypothesis teleological is to approach it with 
a preconception of feather evolution as a process of straightly increasing 
complexity. Neither Prum says so, nor would I. 

The point where I differ is that Prum invoked a convoluted and partially 
genetically implausible, partially evolutionarily nonsensical two-step 
mechanism for first- and second-order branching and another mechanism for the 
rachis, while I'd rather see a branching "algorithm" superimposed on the 
proto-rachis (which needs to be nothing more than a protofuzz fiber) to get 
first-order branching and a proper rachis, and superimposed on the first-order 
branching to get second-order branching.

In other words, Prum takes a protofuzz fiber, shortens it, then lengthens it 
again as soon as barbs have been evolved; in how far would this be 
parsimonious? The ontogeny of rachis and barbs appears to be linked; why should 
such a mechanism evolve in two steps?

(Possible hint: the barbs of tinamou feathers do not fully separate. They 
remain permanently joined a the tips. Perhaps all speculation on feather 
evolution is completely off track in assuming an additive - growing keratin 
patterns - rather than a subtractive mechanism - removing keratin in patterns.)

> with certain stages being inherently maladaptive; again,
> where is the
> evidence for this?

The fitness exhibited by crown Aves lacking contour plumage and exposed to the 
elements, even if kept protected from predators and well furnished with food in 
a tropical climate, is not especially high. Take away the protective covering - 
contour feathers or brooding parents - and rachisless feathers do in fact seem 
to be fatally maladaptive.

Though earlier theropods would have differed in some thermodynamic aspects, a 
lack of presence of "Stage II" in the absence of at least "Stage IIIa+b" *must 
be falsified* before "Stage II" can be accepted at that place where the 
hypothesis puts it, because:

> hypothetical morphological stages can be found among real feathers of
> modern birds.  This directly refutes the contention
> that certain
> stages are selectively disadvantageous, and are therefore
> non-viable
> as intermediate morphologies.

How so? If they *co-occur* in modern birds (and they are also contemporary the 
fossil record), no information on the sequence in which they evolved is given, 
nor is any information given on each type's viability on its own.

And if the fitness of traits (a,b) is 0 ~ w(a) < w(b) << w(a,b), a,b would get 
exceptionally common eventually, but this would still be entirely 
noninformative. What would be informative is the acquisition of b; the 
acquisition of a is also marginally informative at beast, because it has to 
precede acquisition of b.

At least in crown Aves, "Stage II/IIIb" are only reliably functional because 
"Stage IIIa/IIIa+b" are also present. 

A plesiomorphic state that depends on an apomorphic state derived from it for 
viability is impossible.

Then, one-step evolution of flat branching structures from three-dimensional 
tufts - you know any cases where that occurred?

The necessary intermediate would seem to be a three-dimensional branching 
structure; we don't have these in feathers (except perhaps in 
_Sinornithosaurus_), but filoplumes might match. Wouldn't make the hypothesis 
any more parsimonious though; and as regards _Sinornithosaurus_, it was too 
advanced and removed from Aves to have any real bearing on the issue. Prum's 
hypothesis virtually requires Jurassic feathers of down-like or 
_Sinornithosaurus_ "branching filament" type preceding the first incipiently 
vaned feather. 

*A lot* of "protodown" or "branching filaments". 

How many could be expected given the overall density of the feather fossil 
record? How many have been found, except those associated with 
_Sinornithosaurus_? What is their age?

Evolution the other way round is ubiquitious. By shortening the main axis of a 
branching structure, you'll eventually have to end up with a three-dimensional 
tuft (particularly if your structures are closely spaced), even if the initial 
structure was flat.

Another thing to check:

Back/upper belly plumage of Thamnophilidae. Definitely underappreciated. 
_Dysithamnus mentalis_ for example is a species where it can be observed well 
and which is usually easily procured.

 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/10345314@N08/3363232267 give an impression, 
but skins are better (it helps if the feathers are not in top shape). 

Compare to, say, _Sturnus vulgaris_. 

Why are "Stage IIIa", "Stage IIIa+b" and "Stage IV" considered different 
feathers? In living birds, they are a grade within the very same sort of 

Out of curiosity: did mammalian guard hair evolve from the undercoat hair? Did 
the human-type gastrin pathway evolve before the secretin pathway?