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[dinosaur] Evolution of Avian Cranium and of Avian Location + Suchian feeding

Ben Creisler

Some recent papers:

Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, Michael Hanson, Matteo Fabbri, Adam Pritchard, Gabe S. Bever, and Eva Hoffman (2016)
How to Make a Bird Skull: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Avian Cranium, Paedomorphosis, and the Beak as a Surrogate Hand.
Integrative and Comparative Biology (advance online publication)

The avian skull is distinctive in its construction and in its function. Much of bird anatomical variety is expressed in the beak; but the beak itself, largely formed of the premaxillary bone, is set upon a shortened face and a bulbous, enlarged braincase. Here, we use original anatomical observations and reconstructions to describe the overall form of the avian skull in a larger context and to provide a general account of the evolutionary transformation from the early dinosaur skull—the skull of an archosaurian macropredator—to that of modern birds. Facial shortening, the enlargement of the braincase around an enlarged brain (with consequential reduction of circumorbital elements and the adductor chamber), and general thinning and looser articulation of bones are trends. Many of these owe to juvenilization or paedomorphosis, something that is abundantly evident from comparison of a juvenile early theropod (Coelophysis) to early avialans like Archaeopteryx. Near the avian crown, the premaxilla becomes dramatically enlarged and integrated into the characteristic mobile kinetic system of birds. We posit that this addition of a large element onto the skull may be biomechanically feasible only because of the paedomorphic shortening of the face; and kinesis of the beak only because of the paedomorphic thinning of the bones and loosening of articulations, as played out in reverse during the maturation of Coelophysis. Finally, the beak itself becomes elaborated as the hands are integrated into the wing. There are structural, kinematic, and neurological similarities between avian pecking and primate grasping. The ability to precision-select high-quality food against a complex but depauperate background may have permitted crown birds to survive the end-Cretaceous cataclysm by feeding on insects, seeds, and other detritus after the collapse of higher trophic levels in the food web.


Ashley M. Heers (2016)
New Perspectives on the Ontogeny and Evolution of Avian Locomotion.
Integrative and Comparative Biology (advance online publication)

Close correspondence between form and function is a central tenet of natural selection. One of the most striking, textbook cases for form–function congruence is the evolution of flight and the body plan of birds: compared with other tetrapods, extant adult birds have highly modified integuments and skeletons, and it has traditionally been assumed that many of these modifications are adaptations or exaptations for flight. However, developing birds that lack many of the morphological signatures of flight capacity nevertheless use their developing wings for a variety of flapping behaviors, such as wing-assisted incline running and even brief flight. Immature birds thereby demonstrate that rudimentary “flight” apparatuses are more functional than traditional assumptions about form–function relationships would predict. Here, I review the ontogeny of avian locomotion, highlighting how the developmental acquisition of flight in extant birds can improve our understanding of form–function relationships in the avian body plan, and provide insight into the evolutionary origin of flight among extinct non-avian theropod dinosaurs.


Paul Gignac and Haley O’Brien (2016)
Suchian Feeding Success at the Interface of Ontogeny and Macroevolution.
Integrative and Comparative Biology (advance online publication)

Free pdf:

There have been a number of attempts to explain how crocodylian bite-force performance covaries with cranial form and diet. However, the mechanics and morphologies of crocodylian jaws have thus far remained incongruent with data on their performance and evolution. For example, it is largely assumed that the functional anatomy and performance of adults tightly fits the adult niche. At odds with this precept are groups with resource-dependent growth, whose juvenile stages undergo shifts in mass, morphology, and resource usage to overcome strong selection related to issues of small body size, as compared to adults. Crocodylians are an example of such a group. As living suchians, they also have a long and fossil-rich evolutionary history, characterized by analogous increases in body size, diversifications in rostrodental form, and shifts in diet. Here we use biomechanical and evolutionary modeling techniques to study the development and evolution of the suchian feeding apparatus and to formally assess the impact of potential ontogenetic-evolutionary parallels on clade dynamics. We show that patterns of ontogenetic and evolutionary bite-force changes exhibit inverted patterns of heterochrony, indicating that early ontogenetic trends are established as macroevolutionary patterns within Neosuchia, prior to the origin of Eusuchia. Although selection can act on any life-history stage, our findings suggest that selection on neonates and juveniles, in particular, can contribute to functionally important morphologies that aid individual and clade success without being strongly tied to their adult niche.