Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Evolution of Birds

The fossil record of birds is patchy and their evolutionary history is poorly known. The first feathered animal, Archaeopteryx, has been identified in Upper Jurassic deposits, from 150 million years ago. Based on fossil and biological evidence, most scientists accept that birds are a specialized subgroup of theropod dinosaurs. More specifically, they are members of Maniraptora, a group of theropods which includes dromaeosaurs and oviraptorids, among others. As scientists have discovered more nonavian theropods closely related to birds, the previously clear distinction between nonbirds and birds has become blurred. Recent discoveries in the Liaoning Province of northeast China, which demonstrate many small theropod dinosaurs had feathers, contribute to this ambiguity. But some researchers contending that birds are not dinosaurs, but evolved from early archosaurs like Longisquama, which is an extinct genus of lizard-like reptile

The evolutionary success of birds is evidenced by the wide variety of present-day forms. They have long been popular subjects of study for taxonomists. Traditional classifications are based mainly on morphological and anatomical differences in structure, plumage, and so forth. More recently, behavioral traits, song, and biochemical techniques (including DNA) have been employed. Yet, while there is general agreement as to the families to which the 9,000 or so extant bird species belong, a variety of opinions exists on the relationships within and between families.

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