Robert E. Kambic, Andrew A. Biewener & Stephanie E. Pierce (2017)
Experimental determination of three-dimensional cervical joint mobility in the avian neck.
Frontiers in Zoology 14: 37
Birds have highly mobile necks, but neither the details of how they realize complex poses nor the evolution of this complex musculoskeletal system is well-understood. Most previous work on avian neck function has focused on dorsoventral flexion, with few studies quantifying lateroflexion or axial rotation. Such data are critical for understanding joint function, as musculoskeletal movements incorporate motion around multiple degrees of freedom simultaneously. Here we use biplanar X-rays on wild turkeys to quantify three-dimensional cervical joint range of motion in an avian neck to determine patterns of mobility along the cranial-caudal axis.
Range of motion can be generalized to a three-region model: cranial joints are ventroflexed with high axial and lateral mobility, caudal joints are dorsiflexed with little axial rotation but high lateroflexion, and middle joints show varying amounts axial rotation and a low degree of lateroflexion. Nonetheless, variation within and between regions is high. To attain complex poses, substantial axial rotation can occur at joints caudal to the atlas/axis complex and zygapophyseal joints can reduce their overlap almost to osteological disarticulation. Degrees of freedom interact at cervical joints; maximum lateroflexion occurs at different dorsoventral flexion angles at different joints, and axial rotation and lateroflexion are strongly coupled. Further, patterns of joint mobility are strongly predicted by cervical morphology.
Birds attain complex neck poses through a combination of mobile intervertebral joints, coupled rotations, and highly flexible zygapophyseal joints. Cranial-caudal patterns of joint mobility are tightly linked to cervical morphology, such that function can be predicted by form. The technique employed here provides a repeatable protocol for studying neck function in a broad array of taxa that will be directly comparable. It also serves as a foundation for future work on the evolution of neck mobility along the line from non-avian theropod dinosaurs to birds.
Peter G. Farlie, Nadia M. Davidson, Naomi L. Baker, Mai Raabus, Kelly N. Roeszler, Claire Hirst, Andrew Major, Mylene M. Mariette, David M. Lambert, Alicia Oshlack & Craig A. Smith (2017)
Co-option of the cardiac transcription factor Nkx2.5 during development of the emu wing.
Nature Communications 8, Article number: 132 (2017)
The ratites are a distinctive clade of flightless birds, typified by the emu and ostrich that have acquired a range of unique anatomical characteristics since diverging from basal Aves at least 100 million years ago. The emu possesses a vestigial wing with a single digit and greatly reduced forelimb musculature. However, the embryological basis of wing reduction and other anatomical changes associated with loss of flight are unclear. Here we report a previously unknown co-option of the cardiac transcription factor Nkx2.5 to the forelimb in the emu embryo, but not in ostrich, or chicken and zebra finch, which have fully developed wings. Nkx2.5 is expressed in emu limb bud mesenchyme and maturing wing muscle, and mis-_expression_ of Nkx2.5 throughout the limb bud in chick results in wing reductions. We propose that Nkx2.5 functions to inhibit early limb bud expansion and later muscle growth during development of the vestigial emu wing.
Alicia Grealy, Nicolas J. Rawlence and Michael Bunce (2017)
Time to Spread Your Wings: A Review of the Avian Ancient DNA Field.
Genes, 8(7): 184
Ancient DNA (aDNA) has the ability to inform the evolutionary history of both extant and extinct taxa; however, the use of aDNA in the study of avian evolution is lacking in comparison to other vertebrates, despite birds being one of the most species-rich vertebrate classes. Here, we review the field of “avian ancient DNA” by summarising the past three decades of literature on this topic. Most studies over this time have used avian aDNA to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and clarify taxonomy based on the sequencing of a few mitochondrial loci, but recent studies are moving toward using a comparative genomics approach to address developmental and functional questions. Applying aDNA analysis with more practical outcomes in mind (such as managing conservation) is another increasingly popular trend among studies that utilise avian aDNA, but the majority of these have yet to influence management policy. We find that while there have been advances in extracting aDNA from a variety of avian substrates including eggshell, feathers, and coprolites, there is a bias in the temporal focus; the majority of the ca. 150 studies reviewed here obtained aDNA from late Holocene (100–1000 yBP) material, with few studies investigating Pleistocene-aged material. In addition, we identify and discuss several other issues within the field that require future attention. With more than one quarter of Holocene bird extinctions occurring in the last several hundred years, it is more important than ever to understand the mechanisms driving the evolution and extinction of bird species through the use of aDNA.