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Data from: Qualitative skeletal correlates of wing shape in extant birds (Aves: Neoaves)

Cite this dataset

Hieronymus, Tobin L. (2015). Data from: Qualitative skeletal correlates of wing shape in extant birds (Aves: Neoaves) [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background: Among living fliers (birds, bats, and insects), birds display relatively high aspect ratios, a dimensionless shape variable that distinguishes long and narrow vs. short and broad wings. Increasing aspect ratio results in a functional tradeoff between low induced drag (efficient cruise) and increased wing inertia (difficult takeoff). Given the wide scope of its functional effects, the pattern of aspect ratio evolution is an important factor that contributes to the substantial ecological and phylogenetic diversity of living birds. However, because the feathers that define the wingtip (and hence wingspan and aspect ratio) often do not fossilize, resolution in the pattern of avian wing shape evolution is obscured by missing information. Here I use a comparative approach to investigate the relationship between skeletal proxies of flight feather attachment and wing shape. Results: An accessory lobe of the internal index process of digit II-1, a bony correlate of distal primary attachment, shows weak but statistically significant relationships to aspect ratio and mass independent of other skeletal morphology. The dorsal phalangeal fossae of digit II-1, which house distal primaries VIII and IX, also show a trend of increased prominence with higher aspect ratio. Quill knobs on the ulna are examined concurrently, but do not show consistent signal with respect to wing shape. Conclusions: Although quill knobs are cited as skeletal correlates of flight performance in birds, their relationship to wing shape is inconsistent among extant taxa, and may reflect diverging selection pressures acting on a conserved architecture. In contrast, correlates of distal primary feather attachment on the major digit show convergent responses to increasing aspect ratio. In light of the diversity of musculoskeletal and integumentary mophology that underlies wing shape in different avian clades, it is unlikely that a single skeletal feature will show consistent predictive power across Neoaves. Confident inference of wing shape in basal ornithurine birds will require multiple lines of evidence, together with an understanding of clade-specific evolutionary trends within the crown.

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