Sustained miniaturization and anatomical innovation in the dinosaurian ancestors of birds

Mike Lee, Andrea Cau, Darren Naish, Gareth Dyke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    158 Citations (Scopus)


    Recent discoveries have highlighted the dramatic evolutionary transformation of massive, ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs into light, volant birds.Here,we apply Bayesian approaches (originally developed for inferring geographic spread and rates of molecular evolution in viruses) in a different context: to infer size changes and rates of anatomical innovation (across up to 1549 skeletal characters) in fossils.These approaches identify two drivers underlying the dinosaur-bird transition.The theropod lineage directly ancestral to birds undergoes sustained miniaturization across 50 million years and at least 12 consecutive branches (internodes) and evolves skeletal adaptations four times faster than other dinosaurs.The distinct, prolonged phase of miniaturization along the bird stem would have facilitated the evolution of many novelties associated with small body size, such as reorientation of body mass, increased aerial ability, and paedomorphic skulls with reduced snouts but enlarged eyes and brains.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)562-566
    Number of pages5
    Issue number6196
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2014


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