Advertisement

Frontiers of Biology in China

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Mesozoic birds of China—a synoptic review

  • Zhou Zhonghe 
  • Zhang Fucheng 
Review

Abstract

A synoptic review of the discoveries and studies of Chinese Mesozoic birds is provided in this paper. 40Ar/39Ar dating of several bird-bearing deposits in the Jehol Group has established a geochronological framework for the study of the early avian radiation. Chinese Mesozoic birds had lasted for at least 11 Ma during about 131 Ma and 120 Ma (Barremian to Aptian) of the middle and late Early Cretaceous, respectively. In order to further evaluate the change of the avian diversity in the Jehol Biota, six new orders and families are erected based on known genera and species, which brings the total number of orders of Chinese Mesozoic birds to 15 and highlights a remarkable radiation ever since the first appearance of birds in the Late Jurassic. Chinese Early Cretaceous birds had experienced a significant differentiation in morphology, flight, diet and habitat. Further examination of the foot of Jeholornis suggests this bird might not have possessed a fully reversed hallux. However, the attachment of metatarsal I to the medial side of metatarsal II does not preclude trunk climbing, a pre-adaptation for well developed perching life of early birds. Arboreality had proved to be a key adaptation in the origin and early evolution of bird flight, and the adaptation to lakeshore environment had played an equally important role in the origin of ornithurine birds and their near-modern flight skill. Many Chinese Early Cretaceous birds had preserved the direct evidence of their diet, showing that the most primitive birds were probably mainly insectivorous and that specialized herbivorous or carnivorous (e.g., piscivorous) dietary adaptation had appeared only in later advanced forms. The only known Early Cretaceous bird embryo fossil has shown that precocial birds had occurred prior to altricial birds in avian history, and the size of the embryo and other analysis indicate it probably had a short incubation period. Leg feathers probably have a wide range of distribution in early birds, further suggesting that leg feathers had played a key role in the beginning stage of the flight of birds. Finally, the Early Cretaceous avian radiation can be better understood against the background of their unique ecosystem. The advantage of birds in the competitions with other vertebrate groups such as pterosaurs had probably not only resulted in the rapid differentiation and radiation of birds but also the worldwide spreading of pterosaurs and other vertebrates from East Asia in the Early Cretaceous.

Keywords

China Early Cretaceous birds 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Cai Z Q, Zhao L J (1999). A long tailed bird from the Late Cretaceous of Zhejiang. Science in China, Series D, 42(4): 434–441Google Scholar
  2. Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y (2003). The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 1–208Google Scholar
  3. Chen P J, Dong Z M, Zhen S N (1997). An exceptionally well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature, 391: 147–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chiappe L M, Ji S, Ji Q, Norell M A (1999). Anatomy and systematics of the Confuciusornithidae (Aves) from the Mesozoic of Northeastern China. Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History, 242: 1–89Google Scholar
  5. Christiansen P, Bonde C R (2004). Body plumage in Archaeopteryx: a review, and new evidence from the Berlin specimen. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 3: 99–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Elzanowski A (2002). Archaeopterygidae (Upper Jurassic of Germany). In: Chiappe L M, Witmer L M, eds. Mesozoic birds above the heads of dinosaurs. Berkeley: California Univ Press, 129–159Google Scholar
  7. Feduccia A (2003). ’Big bang’ for tertiary birds? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 18(4): 172–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Friis E M, Doyle J A, Endress P K, Leng Q (2003). Archaefructus—angiosperm precursor or specialized early angiosperm? Trends in Plant Science, 8: 369–373PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gao K Q, Evans S E, Ji Q, Norell M A, Ji S A (2000). Exceptional fossil material of a semi-aquatic reptile from China: the resolution of an enigma. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 20: 417–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gao K Q, Tang Z L, Wang X L (1999). A long-necked diapsid reptile from the Upper Jurassic/Lower Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, northeastern China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 37(1): 1–8Google Scholar
  11. He H Y, Wang X L, Zhou Z H, Wang F, Boven A., Shi G H, Zhu R X (2004). Timing of the Jiufotang Formation (Jehol Group) in Liaoning, northeastern China and its implications. Geophysical Research Letters, 31(12): L12605Google Scholar
  12. Hopson J A (2001). Ecomorphology of avian and theropod phalangeal proportions: implications for the arboreal versus terrestrial origin of bird flight. In: Gauthier J, Gall L F, eds. New Perspectives on the Origin and Early Evolution of Birds. New Haven: Yale Univ Press, 211–235Google Scholar
  13. Hou L H (1997a). Mesozoic birds of China. Nantou County: Feng-Huang-Ku Bird Park of Taiwan, 1–228 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  14. Hou L H (1997b). A carinate bird from the Upper Jurassic of western Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 42(5): 413–416Google Scholar
  15. Hou L H, Chen P J (1999). Liaoxiornis delicatus gen. et sp. nov., the smallest Mesozoic bird. Chinese Science Bulletin, 44(9): 834–838Google Scholar
  16. Hou L H, Chiappe L M, Zhang F C, Chuong C (2004). New Early Cretaceous fossil from China documents a novel trophic specialization for Mesozoic birds. Naturwissenschaften, 91: 22–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hou L H, Liu Z C (1984). A new fossil bird from Lower Cretaceous of Gansu and early evolution of birds. Scientia Sinica, Series B, 27(12): 1296–1302Google Scholar
  18. Hou L H, Martin L D, Zhou Z H, Feduccia A (1996). Early adaptive radiation of birds: evidence from fossils from northeastern China. Science, 274: 1164–1167PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hou L H, Martin L D, Zhou Z H, Feduccia A (1999). Archaeopteryx to opposite birds—missing link from the Mesozoic of China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 37(2): 88–95Google Scholar
  20. Hou L H, Zhang J Y (1993). A new fossil bird from the lower Cretaceous of Liaoning. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 31(3): 217–224 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  21. Hou L H, Zhou Z H, Gu Y C, Sun Y (1995a). Confuciusornis sanctus, a new Late Jurassic sauriurine bird from China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 40(18): 1545–1551Google Scholar
  22. Hou L H, Zhou Z H, Martin L D, Feduccia A (1995b). A beaked bird from the Jurassic of China. Nature, 377: 616–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hu Y M, Meng J, Wang Y Q, Li C Q (2005). Large Mesozoic mammals fed on young dinosaurs. Nature, 433: 149–152PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ji Q, Currie P J, Norell M A, Ji S A (1998). Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature, 393: 753–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ji Q, Luo Z X, Yuan C X, Zhang J P, Georgi J A (2002a). The earliest known eutherian mammal. Nature, 416: 816–822PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ji Q, Ji S A, You H L, Zhang J P, Yuan C X, Ji X X, Li J L, Li Y X (2002b). Discovery of an avialae bird—Shenzhouraptor sinensis gen. et sp. nov. from China. Geological Bulletin of China, 21(7): 363–369 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  27. Ji Q, Ji S A, Zhang H B, You H L, Zhang J P, Wang L X, Yuan C X, Ji X X (2002c). A new avialan bird—Jixiangornis orientalis gen. et sp. nov.—from the Lower Cretaceous of Western Liaoning. Journal of Nanjing University (Natural Science Edition), 38(6): 723–736 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  28. Ji Q, Ji S A, Lü J C, You H L, Chen W, Liu Y Q, Liu Y X (2005). First avialian bird from China. Geological Bulletiin of China, 24(3): 197–210Google Scholar
  29. Ji Q, Norell M A, Makovicky P J, Gao K Q, Ji S A, Yuan C X (2003). An early ostrich dinosaur and implications for ornithomimosaur phylogeny. American Museum Novitata, 3420: 1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ji S A (1998). A new long-tailed lizard from Upper Jurassic of Liaoning, China. In: Department of Geology, Peking University, ed. Collected Works of International Symposium on Geological Science. Beijing: Seismological Publishing House, 496–505 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  31. Jin F (1999). Middle and Late Mesozoic acipenseriforms from northern Hebei and western Liaoning, China. Palaeoworld, 11: 188–280 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  32. Jin F, Zhang J Y, Zhou Z H (1995). Late Mesozoic fish fauna from Western Liaoning, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 33(3): 169–193 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  33. Leng Q, Friis E M (2003). Sinocarpus decussatus gen. et sp. nov., a new angiosperm with basally syncarpous fruits from the Yixian Formation of Northeast China. Plant Systematics and Evolution, 241(1–2): 77–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Leng Q, Wu S Q, Friis E M (2003). Angiosperms. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 179–185Google Scholar
  35. Liu J (2003a). Turtles. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 87–88Google Scholar
  36. Liu J (2003b). Squamates. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 97–98Google Scholar
  37. Liu J (2004). A nearly complete skeleton of Ikechosaurus pijiagouensis sp. nov. (Reptilia: Choristodera) from the Jiufotang Formation (Lower Cretaceous) of Liaoning, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 42(2): 120–129Google Scholar
  38. Liu J, Wang X L (2003). Choristoderes. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 89–96Google Scholar
  39. Liu Y Q, Li P X, Tian S G (2003). In Luanping basin, northern Hebei, and its implications. Acta Petrologica et Mineralogica, 22(3): 237–244 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  40. Luo Z X, Ji Q, Wible J R, Yuan C (2003). An Early Cretaceous tribosphenic mammal and metatherian evolution. Science, 302: 1934–1940PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Padian K (2003). Four-winged dinosaurs, bird precursors, or neither? BioScience, 53(5): 450–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ren D (1998). Flower-associated brachycera flies as fossil evidence for Jurassic angiosperm origins. Science, 280: 85–88PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sereno C P, Rao C G (1992). Early evolution of avian flight and perching: new evidence from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Science, 255: 845–848CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Starck J M (1993). Evolution of avian ontogenies. In: Power D M ed. Current Ornithology. New York: Plenum Press, 275–366Google Scholar
  45. Starck J M (1996). Comparative morphology and cytokinetics of skeletal growth in hatchings of altricial and precocial birds. Zoologischer Anzeiger, 235: 53–75Google Scholar
  46. Starck J M (1998). Structural variants and invariants in avian embryonic and postnatal development. In: Starck J, Ricklefs M R E, eds. Avian growth and development. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 59–88Google Scholar
  47. Sun G, Ji Q, Dilcher D L, Zheng S L, Nixon K C, Wang X P (2002). Archaefructaceae, a new basal angiosperm family. Science, 296: 899–904PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sun G, Zheng S L, Dilcher D L, Wang Y D, Mei S W (2001). Early angiosperms and their associated plants from western Liaoning, China. Shanghai: Shanghai Sci Tech Edu Publ House (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  49. Swisher III C C, Wang X L, Zhou Z H, Wang Y Q, Jin F, Zhang J Y, Xu X, Wang Y (2002). Further support for a Cretaceous age for the feathered-dinosaur beds of Liaoning, China: New 40Ar/39Ar dating of the Yixian and Tuchengzi Formations. Chinese Science Bulletin, 47(2): 135–138Google Scholar
  50. Swisher III C C, Wang Y Q, Wang X L, Xu X, Wang Y (1999). Cretaceous age for the feathered dinosaurs of Liaoning, China. Nature, 400: 58–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wang S S, Wang Y Q, Hu H Q, Li H M (2001). The existing time of Sihetun vertebrate in western Liaoning — evidence from U-Ph dating of zircon. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46(9): 779–782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wang X L, Kellner A W A, Zhou Z H, Campos D de A (2005). Pterosaur diversity in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems in China. Nature, 437: 875–879PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wang X L, Wang Y Q, Xu X, Wang Y, Zhang J Y, Zhang F, Jin F, Gu G (1999a). Record of the Sihetun vertebrate mass mortality events in western Liaoning, China: caused by volcanic eruptions. Geological Review, 45(Suppl): 458–467 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  54. Wang X L, Wang, Y Q, Jin F, Wang Y, Zhang J Y, Zhang F C, Jin F, Gu G (1999b). The Sihetun fossil vertebrate assemblage and its geological setting of western Liaoning, China. Palaeoworld, 11: 310–327 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  55. Wang X L, Wang Y Q, Zhang F C, Zhang J Y, Zhou Z H, Jin F, Hu Y M, Gu G, Zhang H C (2000). Vertebrate biostratigraphy of the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation in Lingyuan, western Liaoning and its neighboring southern Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia), China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 38(2): 81–99 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  56. Wang X L, Zhou Z H (2003a). A new pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea: Tapejaridae) from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning and its implications for biostratigraphy. Chinese Science Bulletin, 48(1): 16–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wang X L, Zhou Z H (2003b). Two new pterodactyloid pterosaurs from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 41(1): 34–41 (in Chinese with English summary)Google Scholar
  58. Wang X L, Zhou Z H (2003c). Mesozoic Pompeii. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 19–36Google Scholar
  59. Wang X L, Zhou Z H (2004). Pterosaur embryo from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature, 426: 245Google Scholar
  60. Wang Y, Gao K Q (2003). Amphibians. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 77–86Google Scholar
  61. Wang Y Q, Hu Y M, Meng J, Li C (2001). An ossified Meckel’s cartilage in two Cretaceous mammals and origin of the mammalian middle ear. Science, 294: 257–361Google Scholar
  62. Wellnhofer P, Tischlinger H (2004). Das “Brustbein” von Archaeopteryx bavarica Wellnhofer 1993-eine Revision. Archaeopteryx, 22: 3–15Google Scholar
  63. Xu X (2003). Dinosaurs. In: Chang M M, Chen P J, Wang Y Q, Wang Y, eds. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai: Shanghai Science and Technology Publishing House, 109–128Google Scholar
  64. Xu X, Norell M A (2004). A new troodontid dinosaur from China with avian-like sleeping posture. Nature, 431: 838–841PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Xu X, Norell M A, Kuang X W, Wang X L, Zhao Q, Jia C K (2004). Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids. Nature, 431: 680–684PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Xu X, Zhou Z H, Wang X L (2000). The smallest known non-avian theropod dinosaur. Nature, 408: 705–708PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Xu X, Zhou Z H, Wang X L, Kuang X W, Zhang F C, Du X K (2003). Four-winged dinosaurs from China. Nature, 421: 335–340PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zhang F C, Ericson P G P, Zhou Z H (2004). A new enantiornithine bird from China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 41: 1097–1107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Zhang F C, Zhou Z H (2000). A primitive enantiornithine bird and the origin of feathers. Science, 290: 1955–1959PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Zhang F C, Zhou Z H (2004). Leg feathers in an Early Cretaceous bird of China. Nature, 431: 925PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Zhang F C, Zhou Z H, Hou L H, Gu G (2001). Early diversification of birds-evidence from a new opposite bird. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46(11): 945–949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Zhang H C, Rasnitsyn A P (2004). Pelecinid wasps (Insecta, Hymenoptera, Proctotrupoidea) from the Mesozoic of Russia and Mongolia. Cretaceous Research, 25(6): 807–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zhang J Y (2004). New representatives of Cretoscolia (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Scoliidae) from eastern China. Cretaceous Research, 25(2): 229–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zhou Z H (1995). Discovery of a new enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 33(2): 99–113 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  75. Zhou Z H (2004a). Vertebrate radiations of the Jehol Biota and their environmental background. Chinese Science Bulletin, 49: 754–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zhou Z H (2004b). The origin and early evolution of birds: Discoveries, disputes, and perspectives from fossil evidence. Naturwissenschaften, 91: 455–471PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zhou Z H (2006). Adaptive radiation of the Jehol Biota and its evolutionary ecological background. In: Rong J Y, et al, eds. Originations and radiations—evidences from the Chinese fossil record. Beijing: Science Press, 705–732, 943–945 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  78. Zhou Z H, Barrett P M, Hilton J (2003). An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem. Nature, 421: 807–814PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zhou Z H, Clarke J, Zhang F C, et al (2004). Gastroliths in Yanornis—An indication of the earliest radical diet switching and gizzard plasticity in the lineage leading to living birds? Naturwissenschaften, 91: 571–574PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zhou Z H, Farlow J O (2001). Flight capability and habits of Confuciusornis. In: Gauthier J, Gall L F, eds. New Perspectives on the Origin and Early Evolution of Birds. New Haven: Yale Univ Press, 237–254Google Scholar
  81. Zhou Z H, Jin F, Zhang J Y (1992). Preliminary report on a Mesozoic bird from Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 37(16): 1365–1368Google Scholar
  82. Zhou Z H, Wang X L, Zhang F C, Xu X (2000). Important features of Caudipteryx—evidence from two nearly complete new specimens. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 38(4): 241–254Google Scholar
  83. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2001). Two new ornithurine birds from the Early Cretaceous of western Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46(15): 1258–1264 (In Chinese)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2002a). A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature, 418: 405–409PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2002b). Largest bird from the Early Cretaceous and its implications for the earliest avian ecological diversification. Naturwissenschaften, 89: 34–38PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2003a). Jeholornis compared to Archaeopteryx, with a new understanding of the earliest avian evolution. Naturwissenschaften, 90: 220–225PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2003b). Anatomy of the primitive bird Sapeornis chaoyangensis from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 40: 731–747CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C (2004). A precocial avian embryo from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Science, 306: 653PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Zhou Z H, Zhang F C, Clarke J (2002). Archaeoraptor’s better half. Nature, 420: 285PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Zhou Z Y, Zheng S L (2003). The missing link in Ginkgo evolution. Nature, 423: 821–822PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Zhu R X, Hoffman K A, Pan Y X, Shi R P, Li D M (2003). Evidence for weak geomagnetic field intensity prior tothe Cretaceous normal superchron. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 136: 187–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and PaleoanthropologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations