, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 625-639

A primitive confuciusornithid bird from China and its implications for early avian flight

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Abstract

Confuciusornithids, lived from 120–125 million years ago, form a basal bird group and include the oldest birds with horny beaks. Here we describe Eoconfuciusornis zhengi, gen. et sp. nov. from the Early Cretaceous Dabeigou Formatio (131 Ma) in Fengning, Hebei Province, northern China. It represents a new and, more primitive than other known, member of this group and extends the lifespan of this family to 11 Ma, the longest of any known Early Cretaceous avian lineages. Furthermore, Eoconfuciusornis and its relatives present many osteological transformations, such as the size increase of the deltopectoral crest of the humerus and the keel of the sternum, apparently an adaptation toward improved flight in the evolution of the Confuciusornithidae.

Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 40472018, 40121202), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. KZCX3-SW-142), the Major Basic Research Projects of the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China (Gtant No. 2006CB806400), and the Royal Society and Natural Environment Research Council (Grant No. NE/E011055/1)