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[dinosaur] Cenozoic birds: Priscaweka + Litorallus + moa DNA + more

Ben Creisler

Some recent papers on Cenozoic (and extinct modern) birds that may be of interest:

Free pdf:

Priscaweka parvales gen. et sp. nov
Litorallus livezeyi gen. et sp. nov.Â

Ellen K. Mather, Alan J. D. Tennyson, R. Paul Scofield, Vanesa L. De Pietri, Suzanne J. Hand, Michael Archer, Warren D. Handley & Trevor H. Worthy (2018)
Flightless rails (Aves: Rallidae) from the early Miocene St Bathans Fauna, Otago, New Zealand.
Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (advance online publication)
doi:Â Âhttps://doi.org/10.1080/14772019.2018.1432710Â Â

While known for over a decade to exist, fossil rails of the early Miocene (19â16 Ma) St Bathans Fauna, from the South Island of New Zealand, have not previously been described taxonomically or studied in detail. Here we use qualitative osteological features and analyse measurements from wing and leg bones to determine the number of taxa represented, their flight ability, and the presence and nature of sexual dimorphism within the identified taxa. We describe two new rail species in monospecific genera from the St Bathans Fauna: Priscaweka parvales gen. et sp. nov., which is extremely common, and Litorallus livezeyi gen. et sp. nov., a distinctly larger, uncommon species. Priscaweka parvales exhibited a significant degree of sexual dimorphism and was tiny, being the size of the extinct Chatham Island Rail Cabalus modestus. Both newly described species exhibit skeletal proportions and osteological features that indicate they had reduced wings and were flightless. These observations reveal that flightless rallid species have been present in New Zealand for millions of years. The distinctiveness of the St Bathans rails from their closest geographical and chronological neighbours suggests some hidden diversity of volant rails in Australia's fossil record. However, the combined data from Australasian and European records reveal no evidence for a diverse early Miocene crown rallid fauna as predicted by some molecular studies. A subsequent, middle Miocene radiation for crown rallids seems more likely, and appears to have produced the high taxonomic diversity seen in Holocene Australasian rail faunas.





Gerald Mayr, Sophie Hervet & Eric Buffetaut (2018)
On the diverse and widely ignored Paleocene avifauna of Menat (Puy-de-DÃme, France): new taxonomic records and unusual soft tissue preservation
Geological Magazine (advance online publication)Â

The Paleocene locality of Menat (Puy-de-DÃme, France) has yielded several avian fossils, which remained poorly studied, even though some were found almost a century ago. Here, we review some of the material in public collections and show that those birds from Menat, which are at least tentatively identifiable, resemble taxa from early Eocene fossil localities. A largely complete skeleton of a medium-sized bird with strong feet shows affinities to the early Eocene Halcyornithidae and Messelasturidae, which are considered to be representatives of the clade including Psittaciformes and Passeriformes. Another skeleton of a small species resembles the Songziidae from the lower Eocene of China, which are representatives of Ralloidea, the clade including Rallidae and Heliornithidae. A new and previously unreported specimen exhibits exceptional soft tissue preservation, in that the bones appear to be largely dissolved but the podotheca of the feet and even the soft parts around the shank are visible; the plumage remains of this specimen furthermore show an unusual bluish hue.


Free pdf:

Alison Cloutier, Timothy B. Sackton, Phil Grayson, Scott V. Edwards & Allan J. Baker (2018)
First nuclear genome assembly of an extinct moa species, the little bush moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis).
Biorxiv preprint
doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/262816

High throughput sequencing (HTS) has revolutionized the field of ancient DNA (aDNA) by facilitating recovery of nuclear DNA for greater inference of evolutionary processes in extinct species than is possible from mitochondrial DNA alone. We used HTS to obtain ancient DNA from the little bush moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis), one of the iconic species of large, flightless birds that became extinct following human settlement of New Zealand in the 13th century. In addition to a complete mitochondrial genome at 273.5X depth of coverage, we recover almost 900 Mb of the moa nuclear genome by mapping reads to a high quality reference genome for the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). This first nuclear genome assembly for moa covers approximately 75% of the 1.2 Gbp emu reference with sequence contiguity sufficient to identify 87% of bird universal single-copy orthologs. From this assembly, we isolate 40 polymorphic microsatellites to serve as a community resource for future population-level studies in moa. We also compile data for a suite of candidate genes associated with vertebrate limb development. We find that the wingless moa phenotype is likely not attributable to gene loss or pseudogenization among this candidate set, and identify potential function-altering moa coding sequence variants for future experimental assays.


With DNA from a museum specimen, scientists reconstruct the genome of a bird extinct for 700 years



Free pdf:

JÃrn Theuerkauf & Roman Gula (2018)
Indirect evidence for body size reduction in a flightless island bird after human colonisation.
Journal of Ornithology (advance online publication)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-018-1545-0

Rhynochetos orarius has been described from Holocene fossils as the sister species of the smaller extant Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus, a bird endemic to New Caledonia. However, we argue that there has never been evidence justifying the description of R. orarius. Additionally, for biogeographical reasons it seems unlikely that two Kagu species would have evolved in New Caledonia. We therefore synonymise R. orarius and R. jubatus and postulate that Holocene Kagu were larger than today probably because historic hunting by humans targeted larger birds in richer habitat.


Lisa Carrera, Marco Pavia, Matteo Romandini & Marco Peresani (2018)
Avian fossil assemblages at the onset of the LGM in the eastern Alps: A palaecological contribution from the Rio Secco Cave (Italy)
Comptes Rendus Palevol (advance online publication)Â

The avian fossil assemblages from the late Pleistocene deposits of the Rio Secco Cave (north-eastern Italy) is presented herein. We studied the layers that date back to the end of MIS3 and the beginning of MIS2, which also contain evidence of Gravettian frequentation dated to 33.5â30 ka cal BP. The systematic analysis revealed the presence of 18 species and other supraspecific taxa that supported palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. Taxa indicate that, at the onset of LGM, site surroundings were characterised by conifer or mixed forests, open grasslands, slow-flowing water bodies and mountain meadows with rocky outcrops, as indicated by Lagopus muta. Today, this environment is found above the tree line (beyond 1500â2000 m) and cannot be detected near the site, located at 580 m asl. Noteworthy, is also the finding of the second Italian late Pleistocene fossil record of Picus canus.


Chenoanas asiatica sp. nov.Â

Nikita V. Zelenkov, Thomas A. Stidham, Nicolay V. Martynovich, Natalia V. Volkova, Qiang Li & Zhuding Qiu (2018)
The middle Miocene duck Chenoanas (Aves, Anatidae): new species, phylogeny and geographical range
Papers in Palaeontology (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1107

A notable reorganization of the waterfowl communities apparently took place across Eurasia during the middle to early late Miocene, when primitive and extinct anatid taxa (e.g. Mionetta) were replaced by more derived forms, including extant genera. However, little is known about the diversity of Eurasian waterfowl and their palaeobiogeography during this critical interval. In particular, larger ducks of the middle Miocene are represented by poorly known taxa including âAnasâ sansaniensis from western and central Europe and Chenoanas deserti from Western Mongolia. We report new geographically widespread specimens referred to Chenoanas from Mongolia, eastern Siberia, and China that include a new species, Chenoanas asiatica sp. nov., and allow for recognition of the European âAnasâ sansaniensis as a member of Chenoanas. We describe the oldest remains of Chenoanas sansaniensis from eastern Siberia, which supports a westward dispersal or range expansion of this group of ducks during the Miocene, comparable to the previously established biogeographical affinities of many Eurasian mammals. These data also support a growing body of evidence that avian faunas of Siberia were similar to European ones during the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum. Our data indicate a wide Eurasian distribution (more than 8000 km) and a greater diversity within the genus I]Chenoanas[/i] during the late early to middle Miocene. The phylogenetic analysis of Chenoanas suggests that it may be a primitive member of Anatini, and thus does not belong to the basal radiation of extinct relatives of stiff-tailed ducks (Oxyura and its relatives). Species of Chenoanas were probably not specialized divers.

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