Wednesday, May 6, 2015

[PaleoOrnithology • 2015] Archaeornithura meemannae • The Oldest Record of Ornithuromorpha from the early Cretaceous of China

Archaeornithura meemannae
Wang, Zheng, O’Connor, Lloyd, Wang, Wang, Zhang & Zhou. 2015

A reconstruction of the oldest ornithuromorph, Archaeornithura meemannae, a specialized wading bird from the Early Cretaceous of China.
illustration: Zongda Zhang | doi: 10.1038/ncomms7987

Ornithuromorpha is the most inclusive clade containing extant birds but not the Mesozoic Enantiornithes. The early evolutionary history of this avian clade has been advanced with recent discoveries from Cretaceous deposits, indicating that Ornithuromorpha and Enantiornithes are the two major avian groups in Mesozoic. Here we report on a new ornithuromorph bird, Archaeornithura meemannae gen. et sp. nov., from the second oldest avian-bearing deposits (130.7 Ma) in the world. The new taxon is referable to the Hongshanornithidae and constitutes the oldest record of the Ornithuromorpha. However, A. meemannae shows few primitive features relative to younger hongshanornithids and is deeply nested within the Hongshanornithidae, suggesting that this clade is already well established. The new discovery extends the record of Ornithuromorpha by five to six million years, which in turn pushes back the divergence times of early avian lingeages into the Early Cretaceous.

Systematic paleontology

Archaeornithura meemannae gen. et sp. nov.
 Type genus. Hongshanornis, Zhou and Zhang.

 Etymology. The generic name is derived from Greek ‘Archae’ and ‘ornithura’, meaning ‘ancient ornithuromorph’. The specific name is in honour of Dr Meemann Chang for her continuous support of the study of the Jehol Biota.

 Holotype. An articulated partial skeleton with feathers (STM7-145), housed at the Tianyu Natural History Museum of Shandong (STM), China (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Holotype of Archaeornithura meemannae gen. et sp. nov., STM7-145.

Figure 5: Cladogram showing the systematic position of Archaeornithura meemannae among Mesozoic birds.

 Min Wang, Xiaoting Zheng, Jingmai K. O’Connor, Graeme T. Lloyd, Xiaoli Wang, Yan Wang, Xiaomei Zhang & Zhonghe Zhou. 2015. The Oldest Record of Ornithuromorpha from the early Cretaceous of China. Nature Communications. 6, Article number: 6987 doi: 10.1038/ncomms7987

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