Francisco José Serrano & Luis María Chiappe (2017)
Aerodynamic modelling of a Cretaceous bird reveals thermal soaring capabilities during early avian evolution.
Journal of the Royals Society Interface 2017 14 20170182
Several flight modes are thought to have evolved during the early evolution of birds. Here, we use a combination of computational modelling and morphofunctional analyses to infer the flight properties of the raven-sized, Early Cretaceous bird Sapeornis chaoyangensis—a likely candidate to have evolved soaring capabilities. Specifically, drawing information from (i) mechanical inferences of the deltopectoral crest of the humerus, (ii) wing shape (i.e. aspect ratio), (iii) estimations of power margin (i.e. difference between power required for flight and available power from muscles), (iv) gliding behaviour (i.e. forward speed and sinking speed), and (v) palaeobiological evidence, we conclude that S. chaoyangensis was a thermal soarer with an ecology similar to that of living South American screamers. Our results indicate that as early as 125 Ma, some birds evolved the morphological and aerodynamic requirements for soaring on continental thermals, a conclusion that highlights the degree of ecological, functional and behavioural diversity that resulted from the first major evolutionary radiation of birds.