Parallel evolution of theropod dinosaurs and birds
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The hypothesis of the direct origin of birds from theropod dinosaurs has recently become widespread. Direct sisterly relationships between theropods and birds were assumed in the basis of random and formal synapomorphies, such as the number of caudal vertebrae, relative length of the humerus, and flattening of the dorsal margin of the pubis. In essence, this hypothesis is supported by the characters of theropods and birds, such as the presence of feathering, furcula, uncinate processes of ribs, pygostyle, double-condyled dorsal joint of the quadrate, and posteriorly turned pubis, which are recognized as homologies. Until recently, these characters have been regarded as avian apomorphies; however, they are presently known in various coelurosaurian groups. At the same time, they occur in various combinations in the Dromaeosauridae, Troodontidae, Oviraptoridae, Therizinosauridae, and Tyrannosauridae. None of the theropod groups possesses the entire set of these characters. This suggests that theropods and birds acquired them in parallel. Theropod dinosaurs and Sauriurae (Archaeornithes and Enantiornithes) show a number of important system synapomorphies, which indicate that they are closely related. Ornithurine birds lack such synapomorphies; however, their monophyly is supported by a large number of diagnostic characters. The hypothesis of independent origin of Sauriurae and Ornithurae is substantiated; the former are considered to have evolved from theropods in the Jurassic, while the latter deviated from a basal archosauromorph group in the Late Triassic. The hypothesis that birds existed in the Early Mesozoic is supported by the findings of small avian footprints in the Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic of different continents.