The independent movements and flexibility of various parts of the skull, called cranial kinesis, is an evolutionary innovation that is found in living vertebrates only in some squamates and crown birds, and considered to be a major factor underpinning much of the enormous phenotypic and ecological diversity of living birds, the most diverse group of extant amniotes. Compared to the postcranium, our understanding of the evolutionary assemblage of the characteristic modern bird skull has been hampered by sparse fossil records of early cranial materials, with competing hypotheses regarding the evolutionary development of cranial kinesis among early members of the avialans. Here, a detailed three-dimensional reconstruction of the skull of the Early Cretaceous enantiornithine Yuanchuavis kompsosoura allows for its in depth description, including elements that are poorly known among early diverging avialans but are central to deciphering the mosaic assembly of features required for modern avian cranial kinesis. Our reconstruction of the skull shows evolutionary and functional conservation of the temporal and palatal regions by retaining the ancestral theropod dinosaurian configuration within the skull of this otherwise derived and volant bird. Geometric morphometric analysis of the palatine suggests that loss of the jugal process represents the first step in the structural modifications of this element leading to the kinetic crown bird condition. The mixture of plesiomorphic temporal and palatal structures together with a derived avialan rostrum and postcranial skeleton encapsulated in Yuanchuavis manifests the key role of evolutionary mosaicism and experimentation in early bird diversification.
Insight into the evolutionary assemblage of cranial kinesis from a Cretaceous bird
Abstract ID: 169
Event: The 3rd AsiaEvo Conference
Topic: Open category
Presenter Name: Min Wang