ANN ARBOR, Mich.--The remains of a 30-foot-long predatory dinosaur discovered along the banks of Argentina's Rio Colorado is helping to unravel how birds evolved their unusual breathing system.
University of Michigan paleontologist Jeffrey Wilson was part of the team that made the discovery, to be published Sept. 29 in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE and announced at a news conference in Mendoza, Argentina.
The discovery of this dinosaur builds on decades of paleontological research indicating that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
Birds have a breathing system that is unique among land animals. Instead of lungs that expand, birds have a system of bellows, or air sacs, which help pump air through the lungs. This novel feature is the reason birds can fly higher and faster than bats, which, like all mammals, expand their lungs in a less efficient breathing process.
Wilson was a University of Chicago graduate student working with noted dinosaur authority Paul Sereno on the 1996 expedition during which the dinosaur, named Aerosteon riocoloradensis ("air bones from the Rio Colorado") was found. Although the researchers were excited to find such a complete skeleton, it took on even more importance as they began to understand that its bones preserved hallmark features of a bird-like respiratory system.
Arriving at that understanding took some time. Laboratory technicians spent years cleaning and CT-scanning the bones, which were embedded in hard rock, to finally reveal the evidence of air sacs within Aerosteon's body cavity. Previously, paleontologists had found only tantalizing evidence in the backbone, outside the cavity with the lungs.
Wilson worked with Sereno and the rest of the team to scientifically describe and interpret the find. The vertebrae, clavicles, and hip bones bear small openings that lead into large, hollow spaces that would have been lined with a thin layer of soft tissue a
|Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan|
University of Michigan