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


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.

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Laboratoire d’Anatomie Comparée, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, France


Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley, USA


Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France


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We thank C. Lefèvre and C. Mourer-Chauviré for access to modern specimens, D. Berthet for access to Miopelecanus specimens, A. Prieur for making the cast, L. Costeur, E. Maître, B. Sigé, and R. A. Meyers for thoughtful discussion on diverse aspects, L. Viriot and S. L. Olson for comments on earlier drafts, and two anonymous referees for comments which improved the manuscript.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Antoine Louchart.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Louchart, A., Tourment, N. & Carrier, J. The earliest known pelican reveals 30 million years of evolutionary stasis in beak morphology. J Ornithol 152, 15–20 (2011).

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