Nav: Home

How did alvarezsaurian dinosaurs evolve monodactyl hand?

August 23, 2018

Digit reduction occurs many times in tetrapod evolution, and the most famous example is the 'horse series' of North America. An international research team announced the discovery of two new Chinese dinosaurs: Bannykus and Xiyunykus, in the journal Current Biology, which shed light on how alvarezsaurian dinosaurs reduced and lost their fingers.

The new dinosaurs are based on two fossils collected by a joint research team led by XU Xing from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Xiynykus was discovered in 2005 in Zhunggar Basin, northwestern China, and Bannykus was discovered a few years later in 2009 in western Inner Mongolia, north-central China.

The new Alvarezsaurian dinosaurs are among the most bizarre groups of theropods, with extremely short, robust forelimbs with a single functional claw and gracile, bird-like skulls and hindlimbs. These specializations have led to controversy about their phylogenetic placement, biogeographic history, and ecological role in Mesozoic ecosystems.

AT early times, unspecialized alvarezsaur fossils were the key to resolving this controversy, but until recently the group had at least a 90 million year gap in its fossil record, especially during the Early Cretaceous.

The new dinosaurs fall nearly at the midpoint of the 90-million year temporal gap between the earliest and latest alvarezsaurs. They contribute key phylogenetic and biogeographic information that firmly resolves Alvarezsauria as a monophyletic clade originating in Asia and dispersing to other continents.

The new findings show that clear anatomical specializations also present in later members of the clade, such as a hypertrophied first digit, mechanically efficient forearm, and robust humerus. However, they preserve plesiomorphic forelimb proportions not present in later-branching members.

Together, these observations document a major macroevolutionary shift from the plesiomorphic theropod condition of a relatively long arm and grasping hand in the earliest alvarezsaurs (e.g., Haplocheirus), to a long arm with a specialized hand in Bannykus and Xiyunykus, to the highly specialized short-limbed, functionally monodactyl hand in the latest evolving members of the clade. "This transition plays out in an incremental fashion over more than 50 million years," said XU, "it could one day potentially serve as a classic example of macroevolution akin to the 'horse series' of North America." "Alvarezsaurs are weird animals," said Dr. Jonah Choiniere from the University of the Witwatersrand of South Africa, a co-author of the report, "with their strong, clawed hands and weak jaws, they appear to be the dinosaurian analogue to today's aardvarks and anteaters."

But the earliest alvarezsaurs had more typical, meat-eating teeth and hands useful for catching small prey, and only later-evolving alvarezsaurs evolved a hand with a huge, single claw capable perhaps of tearing open rotting logs and anthills. Bannykus and Xiyunykus are important because they show transitional steps in the process of alvarezsaurs adapting to new diets. "The fossil record is the best source of information about how anatomical features evolve," said James Clark from George Washington University, "and like other classic examples of evolution such as the 'horse series,' these dinosaurs show us how a lineage can make a major shift in its ecology over time."

Dr. Roger Benson from the University of Oxford said, "The new fossils have long arms, showing that alvarezsaurs evolved short arms only later in their evoutionary history, in species with small body sizes. This is quite different to what happens in the classic example of tyrannosaurs, which have short arms and giant size."
-end-


Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

Related Evolution Articles:

Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
Guppies teach us why evolution happens
New study on guppies shows that animals evolve in response the the environment they create in the absence of predators, rather than in response to the risk of being eaten.
Undercover evolution
Our individuality is encrypted in our DNA, but it is deeper than expected.
Evolution designed by parasites
In 'Invisible Designers: Brain Evolution Through the Lens of Parasite Manipulation,' published in the September 2019 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology, Marco Del Giudice explores an overlooked aspect of the relationship between parasites and their hosts by systematically discussing the ways in which parasitic behavior manipulation may encourage the evolution of mechanisms in the host's nervous and endocrine systems.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.