Evolutionary transformations are recorded by fossils with transitional morphologies, and are key to understanding the history of life. Reconstructing these transformations requires interpreting functional attributes of extinct forms by exploring how similar features function in extant organisms. However, extinct-extant comparisons are often difficult, because extant adult forms frequently differ substantially from fossil material. Here, we illustrate how postnatal developmental transitions in extant birds can provide rich and novel insights into evolutionary transformations in theropod dinosaurs. Although juveniles have not been a focus of extinct-extant comparisons, developing juveniles in many groups transition through intermediate morphological, functional and behavioral stages that anatomically and conceptually parallel evolutionary transformations. Exploring developmental transitions may thus disclose observable, ecologically relevant answers to long puzzling evolutionary questions.
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