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Shortening tails gave earliest birds evolutionary advantage, study finds

Jonathan Marker | Science Recorder | August 14, 2013

Shortening tails gave earliest birds evolutionary advantage, study finds

It was during the Cretaceous Period that the earliest birds, such as Confuciusornis, Eoenantiornis, and Hongshanornis lived alongside their dinosaur kin.

According to a University of Oxford press release dated August 13, a research team led by scientists from the prestigious British university discovered that, after examining fossils from the Cretaceous Period (145-66 million years ago), a fundamental shortening of the bony tails of the earliest birds caused the development of versatile legs and gave these animals an evolutionary edge.  The findings are reported this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, under the title, “Rates of dinosaur limb evolution provide evidence for exceptional radiation in Mesozoic birds.”

“Birds are the most diverse living tetrapod group and are a model of large-scale adaptive radiation. Neontological studies suggest a radiation within the avian crown group, long after the origin of flight. However, deep time patterns of bird evolution remain obscure because only limited fossil data have been considered,” wrote the researchers in the study’s abstract.

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