The flight of the first birds: two Spanish fossils shed light on their evolution

The flight of the first birds: two Spanish fossils shed light on their evolution

The aerodynamic study Concornis lacustris and Eoalulavis hoyasi, two small birds from the Las Hoyas site (Cuenca), indicates that They could use a wavy flight 126 million years ago 'In leaps', typical of many modern species. This finding shows that birds developed strategies to improve their flight efficiency at a very early stage in their evolution.

A team of scientists from the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History (California, USA), the University of Malaga and the Autonomous University of Madrid has modeled the flight of these two Iberian birds, that lived with dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

A small bird can fly by flapping its wings uninterruptedly and following a straight path, but if it wants to optimize its flight efficiency (to increase speed or fly long distances) it must change strategy, alternating flapping periods with others in which the wings are fold next to the body. This mode of flight describes an undulating path, in which the bird appears to leap forward.

Its advantage is that decreases the resistance of the bird's body to the air and it takes advantage of the acceleration of gravity. This strategy, well known in many modern species, could already be used by primitive birds at least 126 million years ago, as evidenced by this new study of Concornis lacustris and Eoalulavis hoyasi, two fossil birds from Cuenca.

The study, led by the Malaga paleontologist Francisco José Serrano Alarcón, from the Los Angeles Museum, provides for the first time a quantitative analysis that documents wavy flight ability long before modern birds appeared. To do this, the researchers have carried out biomechanical and aerodynamic analyzes on the wing movements and the energy efficiency of these two species.

According to Serrano, “the combination of their small size with relatively short and wide wings would have allowed these primitive birds to develop an undulating 'hopping' flight, similar to that of many modern small birds. With this, they were able to increase their cruising speed by more than 5% compared to a continuous flap flight ”.

The birds of Las Hoyas They belong to a group that predates all modern birds, the enantiornitas, which coexisted with their relatives the dinosaurs and became extinct with them 65 million years ago, Neornite birds being the only representatives of this lineage. The study shows that birds, who use a mode of locomotion as expensive as flight, were able to use strategies to optimize energy expenditure at a very early stage in their evolutionary history.

For Luis Chiappe, vice president of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History and co-author of the work, "these results allow us to highlight the high degree of ecological and functional diversity that birds reached in the Lower Cretaceous during their first great adaptive radiation."

Concornis lacustris and Eoalulavis hoyasi: old acquaintances

Concornis lacustris and Eoalulavis hoyasi come from Las Hoyas (Cuenca), a site whose excavations over the last 33 years have provided a large number of fossils of all kinds, including plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, pterosaurs (flying reptiles), dinosaurs, birds, and small mammals.

As another co-author of the article states, Jose Luis Sanz, Professor of Paleontology at the Autonomous University of Madrid and responsible for the excavations of the site during the early years, “the richness and exceptional preservation of the fossils of Las Hoyas, which make it a world-renowned site, represent an incomparable window to the wetlands from the lower Cretaceous ”.

Professor Sanz himself described Concornis and Eoalulavis in the 1990s, when they had a great impact due to the fact that very few birds with that age (126 million years) were known. "This study demonstrates the usefulness of analyzing already known fossils, but using a different approach" according to Paul Palmqvist, professor of Paleontology at the University of Malaga and co-author of the study.

Via: Sinc Agency

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