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Archaeopteryx feathers and origin of flight based on 11th specimen

Ben Creisler

A new paper in Nature magazine:

Christian Foth,  Helmut Tischlinger & Oliver W. M. Rauhut (2014)
New specimen of Archaeopteryx provides insights into the evolution of
pennaceous feathers.
Nature 511: 79–82 (03 July 2014)

Discoveries of bird-like theropod dinosaurs and basal avialans in
recent decades have helped to put the iconic 'Urvogel' Archaeopteryx
into context and have yielded important new data on the origin and
early evolution of feathers. However, the biological context under
which pennaceous feathers evolved is still debated. Here we describe a
new specimen of Archaeopteryx with extensive feather preservation, not
only on the wings and tail, but also on the body and legs. The new
specimen shows that the entire body was covered in pennaceous
feathers, and that the hindlimbs had long, symmetrical feathers along
the tibiotarsus but short feathers on the tarsometatarsus.
Furthermore, the wing plumage demonstrates that several recent
interpretations are problematic. An analysis of the phylogenetic
distribution of pennaceous feathers on the tail, hindlimb and arms of
advanced maniraptorans and basal avialans strongly indicates that
these structures evolved in a functional context other than flight,
most probably in relation to display, as suggested by some previous
studies. Pennaceous feathers thus represented an exaptation and were
later, in several lineages and following different patterns, recruited
for aerodynamic functions. This indicates that the origin of flight in
avialans was more complex than previously thought and might have
involved several convergent achievements of aerial abilities.

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