|Kunpengopterus antipollicatus |
Zhou, Pêgas, Ma, Han, Jin, ... et Ji. 2021.
• Opposed thumbs are adaptations to arborealism and rare for non-mammal vertebrates
• A new pterosaur shows the oldest record of such a feature, the first for the group
• A comprehensive ecomorphological analysis corroborates arborealism for the species
• It shared a complex forest habitat with close relatives through niche partitioning
Pterosaurs, which lived during the Mesozoic, were the first known vertebrates to evolve powered flight. Arboreal locomotion has been proposed for some taxa, and even considered to have played a role in the origin of pterosaur flight. Even so, there is still need for comprehensive quantitative ecomorphological analyses. Furthermore, skeletal adaptations correlated to specialized lifestyles are often difficult to recognize and interpret in fossils. Here we report on a new darwinopteran pterosaur that inhabited a unique forest ecosystem from the Jurassic of China. The new species exhibits the oldest record of palmar (or true) opposition of the pollex, which is unprecedented for pterosaurs and represents a sophisticated adaptation related to arboreal locomotion. Principal-coordinate analyses suggest an arboreal lifestyle for the new species but not for other closely related species from the same locality, implying a possible case of ecological niche partitioning. The discovery adds to the known array of pterosaur adaptations and the history of arborealism in vertebrates. It also adds to the impressive early bloom of arboreal communities in the Jurassic of China, shedding light on the history of forest environments.
Keywords: Pterosauria, Wukongopteridae, Yanliao Biota, Mesozoicopposed thumb, arborealism, functional morphology, ecomorphology, niche partitioning, vertebrate evolution
Xuanyu Zhou, Rodrigo V. Pêgas, Waisum Ma, Gang Han, Xingsheng Jin, Maria E.C. Leal, Niels Bonde, Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, Stephan Lautenschlager, Xuefang Wei, Caizhi Shen and Shu’an Ji. 2021. A New Darwinopteran Pterosaur reveals Arborealism and An opposed Thumb. Current Biology. In Press. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.030