Using modern bird claws to investigate the lifestyles of extinct birds
Annie P. McIntosh, Ph.D. Student, University of Alberta
Location: Mount Royal University, Room B108
Date: November 16, 2018, 8:00pm
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Modern birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs in the Late Jurassic period (around 150 million years ago). Today, birds are the most diverse four-legged vertebrates, comprising about 10,000 living species. Birds occupy many different niches and show great variety in behavior and lifestyle. This diversity in lifestyle is directly related to diversity in form and function and the morphology of an animal can tell us a lot about its behavior. This study sought to determine if the morphology of the claw on the foot in modern birds was correlated to their behavior and ecological niche. The shape of the claw was compared across 128 specimens of bird, comprising 104 living species and one extinct species. By observing clusters of specimens with similar claw shapes, it was found that birds with broadly similar ecological niches were distinguishable based on overall claw morphology. This result was then used to investigate the possible behavior of an extinct bird species, Confuciusornis sanctus, by analyzing the morphology of its claw.
Confuciusornis sanctus is an Early Cretaceous bird from the Liaoning Province of northeastern China. Although much work has been published on this species, details of its habitat and behavior remained unclear. The morphology of the claw of C. sanctus indicates that it likely had a mainly arboreal lifestyle, spending most of its time climbing and perching in trees. By integrating this information with other evidence, we can make better inferences about the lifestyle of C. sanctus. This study shows that morphology and behavior in modern birds can be used to study that in extinct birds and can help us more accurately determine their likely ecological niches.
Annie P. McIntosh is a Ph.D. student in palaeontology in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Alberta. She completed her Bachelor of Science in biological sciences at Northern Arizona University in May 2012. Between May 2012 and August 2013, she taught a summer high school course in palaeontology and geology at the University of Chicago and volunteered as a docent and fossil preparator at the Field Museum. In August 2013 she began the Master’s program at DePaul University in Chicago. Early in her Master’s program, she published two papers on Cretaceous marine vertebrate fauna of the Western Interior Seaway before beginning her thesis project. Her research focused on how the morphology of the claw of modern birds could be correlated to variations in their behavior, and how this can be used to make inferences about the lifestyles of extinct birds. In August 2017, she completed her Master’s thesis and moved from Chicago to Edmonton to begin a Ph.D. program at the University of Alberta. She has been a student and research assistant with Dr. Philip Currie since September 2017. Her current research focuses on the biomechanics of the hindlimb in extinct birds and theropod dinosaurs, specifically as related to the evolution of flight.
In addition to the main presentation David Moore will provide a brief presentation.
The Burgess Shale: A guide’s perspective
Speaker: David Moore, Burgess Shale Guide, M.Sc., University of Calgary
Field BC is the jumping off point for a palaeontological pilgrimage for anyone fascinated by the history of early animal life on this planet. For over one hundred years the Burgess Shale has provided a rare and spectacular glimpse into the world as it was during Cambrian time. Accompanying people from all over the world on this adventure is a great honour and I have been very fortunate to have the privilege for almost twenty-five years. What makes this remote mountainside in Yoho National Park so special? Few places on Earth have had as significant and lasting an impact on our understanding of our place in the history of animal life. I will share some of my experiences taking people to this iconic World Heritage Site.
David Moore studied Geology at the University of Calgary and received his MSc. in 2002. He started guiding to the Burgess Shale as an Undergraduate in the early 1990s. David has worked in the energy industry for over twenty years. His passions lie in teaching, the history of early animal life, and the mountains. Currently David spends most of the off-season taking care of his young children.