A new species of pengornithidae (aves: enantiornithes) from the lower cretaceous of China suggests a specialized scansorial habitat previously unknown in early birds

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 3;10(6):e0126791. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126791. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

We describe a new enantiornithine bird, Parapengornis eurycaudatus gen. et sp. nov. from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning, China. Although morphologically similar to previously described pengornithids Pengornis houi, Pengornis IVPP V18632, and Eopengornis martini, morphological differences indicate it represents a new taxon of the Pengornithidae. Based on new information from this specimen we reassign IVPP V18632 to Parapengornis sp. The well preserved pygostyle of the new specimen elucidates the morphology of this element for the clade, which is unique in pengornithids among Mesozoic birds. Similarities with modern scansores such as woodpeckers may indicate a specialized vertical climbing and clinging behavior that has not previously been inferred for early birds. The new specimen preserves a pair of fully pennaceous rachis-dominated feathers like those in the holotype of Eopengornis martini; together with the unique morphology of the pygostyle, this discovery lends evidence to early hypotheses that rachis-dominated feathers may have had a functional significance. This discovery adds to the diversity of ecological niches occupied by enantiornithines and if correct reveals are remarkable amount of locomotive differentiation among Enantiornithes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / classification*
  • China
  • Fossils*

Grant support

This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program, 2012CB821906), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41172020) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to ZZ. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.