Comparative anatomy of the passerine carpometacarpus helps illuminate the early fossil record of crown Passeriformes

Elizabeth M. Steell, Jacqueline M. T. Nguyen, Roger B. J. Benson, Daniel J. Field

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The hyper-diverse clade Passeriformes (crown group passerines) comprises over half of extant bird diversity, yet disproportionately few studies have targeted passerine comparative anatomy on a broad phylogenetic scale. This general lack of research attention hinders efforts to interpret the passerine fossil record and obscures patterns of morphological evolution across one of the most diverse clades of extant vertebrates. Numerous potentially important crown passeriform fossils have proven challenging to place phylogenetically, due in part to a paucity of phylogenetically informative characters from across the passerine skeleton. Here, we present a detailed analysis of the morphology of extant passerine carpometacarpi, which are relatively abundant components of the passerine fossil record. We sampled >70% of extant family-level passerine clades (132 extant species) as well as several fossils from the Oligocene of Europe and scored them for 54 phylogenetically informative carpometacarpus characters optimised on a recently published phylogenomic scaffold. We document a considerable amount of previously undescribed morphological variation among passerine carpometacarpi, and, despite high levels of homoplasy, our results support the presence of representatives of both crown Passeri and crown Tyranni in Europe during the Oligocene.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Early online date7 Sep 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Sep 2022


  • carpometacarpus
  • Passeri
  • Passeriformes
  • passerines
  • songbirds
  • Tyranni


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