Anick Abourachid, Anthony Herrel, Thierry Decamps, Fanny Pages, Anne-Claire Fabre, Luc Van Hoorebeke, Dominique Adriaens and Maria Alexandra Garcia Amado (2019)
Hoatzin nestling locomotion: Acquisition of quadrupedal limb coordination in birds.
Science Advances Â5(5): eaat0787
The evolution of flight in birds involves (i) decoupling of the primitive mode of quadrupedal locomotor coordination, with a new synchronized flapping motion of the wings while conserving alternating leg movements, and (ii) reduction of wing digits and loss of functional claws. Our observations show that hoatzin nestlings move with alternated walking coordination of the four limbs using the mobile claws on their wings to anchor themselves to the substrate. When swimming, hoatzin nestlings use a coordinated motion of the four limbs involving synchronous or alternated movements of the wings, indicating a versatile motor pattern. Last, the proportions of claws and phalanges in juvenile hoatzin are radically divergent from those in adults, yet strikingly similar to those of Archaeopteryx. The locomotor plasticity observed in the hoatzin suggests that transitional forms that retained claws on the wings could have also used them for locomotion.
Flightlessness in birds is the product of changes in suites of charactersâincluding increased body size and reduced anterior limbsâthat have evolved repeatedly and independently under similar ecological conditions (generally insularity). It remains unknown whether this phenotypic convergence extends to the genomic level, partially because many losses of flight occurred long ago (such as in penguins or ratites), thus complicating the study of the genetic pathways to flightlessness. Here we use genome sequencing to study the evolution of flightlessness in a group of ducks that are current and dynamic exemplars of this major functional transition. These recently diverged Tachyeres steamerâducks differ in their ability to fly: one species is predominantly flighted and three are mainly flightless. Through a genomeâwide association analysis we identify two narrow candidate genomic regions implicated in the morphological changes that led to flightlessness, and reconstruct the number of times flightnesses has evolved in Tachyeres. The strongest association is with DYRK1A, a gene that when knockedâout in mice leads to alterations in growth and bone morphogenesis. These findings, together with phylogenetic and demographic analyses, imply that the genomic changes leading to flightlessness in Tachyeres may have evolved once, and that this trait remains functionally polymorphic in two species.
Phylogenies for fossil taxa must be inferred from morphology, but accuracy of inference is questionable. Here, morphological characters for extant crocodilians are investigated to assess how to improve inference accuracy. The homoplasy of characters is assessed against a DNA-based phylogenetic tree. Cranial characters are significantly less homoplastic, but this result is perhaps confounded by research effort. Meristic characters are significantly more homoplastic and should be used with caution. Characters were reassessed first hand and documented. Those characters passing tests of robust construction are significantly less homoplastic. Suggestions are made for means to improve coding of discrete characters. Phylogenies inferred using only robust characters and a reassessed matrix, including corrected scorings, were not overall closer to the DNA tree, but did often place the gharial (Gavialis) in a position agreeing with or closer to it. The effects of the choice of analytical method were modest, but Bayesian analysis of the reassessed matrix placed Gavialis and Mecistops (slender-snouted crocodile) in DNA-concordant positions. Use of extant rather than extinct outgroups, even with the original matrix, placed Gavialis in a more DNA-concordant position, as did factoring out 3D skull shape. The morphological case for placement of Gavialis outside other extant crocodilians is arguably overstated, with many characters linked to skull shape.