, Volume 44, Issue 12, pp 1570-1588

Origin of feathered flight

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Abstract

The origin of flight in birds and theropod dinosaurs is a many-sided and debatable problem. We develop a new approach to the resolution of this problem, combining terrestrial and arboreal hypotheses of the origin of flight. The bipedalism was a key adaptation for the development of flight in both birds and theropods. The bipedalism dismissed the forelimbs from the supporting function and promoted transformation into wings. For the development of true flapping avian flight, a key role was played by the initial universal anisodactylous foot of birds. This foot pattern provided a firm support on both land and trees. Theropod dinosaurs, archaeopteryxes, and some other early feathered creatures had a pamprodactylous foot and, hence, they developed only gliding descent. Early birds descended by flattering parachuting with the use of incipient wings; this gave rise to true flight. Among terrestrial vertebrates, only bats, pterosaurians, and birds developed true flapping flight, although they followed different morphofunctional pathways when solving this task. However, it remains uncertain what initiated the adaptation of the three groups for the air locomotion. Nevertheless, the past decade has provided unexpectedly abundant paleontological data, which facilitate the resolution of this question with reference to birds.