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Abstract The avian transition from long to short, distally fused tails during the Mesozoic ushered in the Pygostylian group, which includes modern birds. The avian tail embodies a bipartite anatomy, with the proximal separate caudal vertebrae region, and the distal pygostyle, formed by vertebral fusion. This study investigates developmental features of the two tail domains in different bird groups, and analyzes them in reference to evolutionary origins. We first defined the early developmental boundary between the two tail halves in the chicken, then followed major developmental structures from early embryo to post-hatching stages. Differences between regions were observed in sclerotome anterior/posterior polarity and peripheral nervous system development, and these were consistent in other neognathous birds. However, in the paleognathous emu, the neognathous pattern was not observed, such that spinal nerve development extends through the pygostyle region. Disparities between the neognaths and paleognaths studied were also reflected in the morphology of their pygostyles. The ancestral long-tailed spinal nerve configuration was hypothesized from brown anole and alligator, which unexpectedly more resembles the neognathous birds. This study shows that tail anatomy is not universal in avians, and suggests several possible scenarios regarding bird evolution, including an independent paleognathous long-tailed ancestor.more » « less
The evolution of avian cranial kinesis is a phenomenon in part responsible for the remarkable diversity of avian feeding adaptations observable today. Although osteological, developmental and behavioral features of the feeding system are frequently studied, comparatively little is known about cranial joint skeletal tissue composition and morphology from a microscopic perspective. These data are key to understanding the developmental, biomechanical and evolutionary underpinnings of kinesis. Therefore, here we investigated joint microstructure in juvenile and adult mallard ducks (
Anas platyrhynchos; Anseriformes). Ducks belong to a diverse clade of galloanseriform birds, have derived adaptations for herbivory and kinesis, and are model organisms in developmental biology. Thus, new insights into their cranial functional morphology will refine our understanding of avian cranial evolution. A total of five specimens (two ducklings and three adults) were histologically sampled, and two additional specimens (a duckling and an adult) were subjected to micro‐computed tomographic scanning. Five intracranial joints were sampled: the jaw joint (quadrate‐articular); otic joint (quadrate‐squamosal); palatobasal joint (parasphenoid‐pterygoid); the mandibular symphysis (dentary‐dentary); and the craniofacial hinge (a complex flexion zone involving four different pairs of skeletal elements). In both the ducklings and adults, the jaw, otic and palatobasal joints are all synovial, with a synovial cavity and articular cartilage on each surface (i.e. bichondral joints) ensheathed in a fibrous capsule. The craniofacial hinge begins as an ensemble of patent sutures in the duckling, but in the adult it becomes more complex: laterally it is synovial; whereas medially, it is synostosed by a bridge of chondroid bone. We hypothesize that it is chondroid bone that provides some of the flexible properties of this joint. The heavily innervated mandibular symphysis is already fused in the ducklings and remains as such in the adult. The results of this study will serve as reference for documenting avian cranial kinesis from a microanatomical perspective. The formation of: (i) secondary articular cartilage on the membrane bones of extant birds; and (ii) their unique ability to form movable synovial joints within two or more membrane bones (i.e. within their dermatocranium) might have played a role in the origin and evolution of modern avian cranial kinesis during dinosaur evolution.