Dinosaurs. What springs to mind when they’re mentioned? Colossal, towering sauropods? Packs of feisty feathered fiends? Or huge herds of hadrosaurs, chomping their way across the plains of long-lost worlds? Most, including myself, will automatically default to any one of these images when dinosaurs come up in conversation (what, you mean it’s not that frequent for normal people?) But we often neglect to think the earliest dinosaurs, spectacular organisms that gave birth to the most successful, and on-going, terrestrial vertebrate radiation of all time.
How can the dead help the living? This is a question a lot of fossil-fanatics have bent a lot of time towards over recent years, partially due to a desire to make palaeontology ‘relevant’ as a modern science, and secondly to help guide our efforts in conservation biology. A new series, edited by my supervisor Dr. Phil Mannion and others, focusses on the way we interpret palaeobiodiversity, biodiversity in the fossil record, for different groups and the issues and solutions facing the field. The final article in the volume struck me in particular.
How can fossils help us to protect these now and in the future? Source.
Birds are living, breathing, tweeting dinosaurs. That is scientific knowledge backed up by overwhelming evidence, but the evidence basis for it grows strong all the time. We know that they are related from a host of morphological evidence from the last 150 million years or so. Our understanding of the origins of feathers and flight are developing too – each new finding is a piece that slots into a puzzle, where we already have a pretty good idea of what the picture we’re trying to recreate is. The evidence is mounting too with each new discovery – findings from China are rewriting the way we think about the evolution of feathers and flight, and the evolution of early birds from their dinosaurian ancestors.
The origin of bird flight is one of the greatest stories evolution has ever told us in the history of life on this planet. To imagine how organisms that once ran around on the ground have descendants that soar through the skies is truly phenomenal, and represents a truly great leap in increasing the awesomeness of these animals. The secret of how it came about though is hidden away in the fossil record, with the mysterious tale ever-shifting as our understanding of early birds and feather precursors evolved.