Original Article

Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 15-20

First online:

The earliest known pelican reveals 30 million years of evolutionary stasis in beak morphology

  • Antoine LouchartAffiliated withInstitut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, équipe “Evo-dévo de la denture chez les Vertébrés”, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS, INRA Email author 
  • , Nicolas TourmentAffiliated withNicolas Tourment
  • , Julie CarrierAffiliated withCollège le Bassenon

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The feeding apparatus of Paleogene birds is rarely well-preserved. Here, we describe the earliest known pelican (early Oligocene, Luberon, southeastern France), with its almost complete beak. Morphologically identical to modern pelicans, the new fossil already shows several advanced features unique to extant species of the genus Pelecanus. It probably belongs to the lineage ancestral to all or some of these pelican species. This fossil reveals a remarkable evolutionary stasis in the morphology of such an advanced avian feeding apparatus through ca. 30 million years. Several hypotheses are proposed to suggest explanations for such examples of long stases in volant homeothermic vertebrates.


Cranial kinesis Evolution Feeding apparatus Oligocene Pelecanus