, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 430-435
Date: 16 Dec 2008

A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil that fills a morphological gap in avian origin

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Abstract

Recent fossil discoveries have substantially reduced the morphological gap between non-avian and avian dinosaurs, yet avians including Archaeopteryx differ from non-avian theropods in their limb proportions. In particular, avians have proportionally longer and more robust forelimbs that are capable of supporting a large aerodynamic surface. Here we report on a new maniraptoran dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi gen. et sp. nov., based on a specimen collected from lacustrine deposits of uncertain age in western Liaoning, China. With an estimated mass of 110 grams, Anchiornis is the smallest known non-avian theropod dinosaur. It exhibits some wrist features indicative of high mobility, presaging the wing-folding mechanisms seen in more derived birds and suggesting rapid evolution of the carpus. Otherwise, Anchiornis is intermediate in general morphology between non-avian and avian dinosaurs, particularly with regard to relative forelimb length and thickness, and represents a transitional step toward the avian condition. In contrast with some recent comprehensive phylogenetic analyses, our phylogenetic analysis incorporates subtle morphological variations and recovers a conventional result supporting the monophyly of Avialae.

Supported by Hundred Talents Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 40125006, 40472018), and National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2006CB806400)