Reconstructing locomotor ecology of extinct avialans: a case study of Ichthyornis comparing sternum morphology and skeletal proportions
Lowi-Merri, Talia et al. (2023), Reconstructing locomotor ecology of extinct avialans: a case study of Ichthyornis comparing sternum morphology and skeletal proportions, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.zw3r228c5
Avian skeletal morphology is associated with locomotor function, including flight style, swimming and terrestrial locomotion, and permits informed inferences on locomotion in extinct taxa. The fossil taxon Ichthyornis (Avialae: Ornithurae) has long been regarded as highly aerial, with flight similar to terns or gulls (Laridae), and skeletal features resembling foot-propelled diving adaptations. However, rigorous testing of locomotor hypotheses has yet to be performed on Ichthyornis, despite its notable phylogenetic position as one of the most crownward stem birds. We analysed separate datasets of 3D sternal shape (geometric morphometrics) and skeletal proportions (linear measurements across the skeleton), to examine how well these data types predict locomotor traits in Neornithes. We then used this information to infer locomotor capabilities of Ichthyornis. We find strong support for both soaring and foot-propelled swimming capabilities in Ichthyornis. Further, sternal shape and skeletal proportions provide complementary information on avian locomotion: skeletal proportions allow better predictions of the capacity for flight, whereas sternal shape predicts variation in more specific locomotor abilities such as soaring, foot-propelled swimming, and escape burst flight. These results have important implications for future studies of extinct avialan ecology, and underscore the importance of closely considering sternum morphology in investigations of fossil bird locomotion.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: RGPIN-2018-06747
European Research Council, Award: 677774
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: RGPIN-2018-06788
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: PGSD3-547147-2020