12.10.2016

Communication mechanisms discovered in prehistoric birds

CONICET Researchers presented the most antique known fossils of the vocal apparatus of birds at the Cultural Centre of Science (C3). Their findings were published in the journal named ‘Nature’.

Communication mechanisms discovered in prehistoric birds

Novas summed up how interested science is in birds and their evolution.

The remains found in Vega Island in the Argentine Antarctica belong to Vegavis Iaai, a specimen similar to the current bird that lived during the Upper Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago. However impossible it may seem, the fragile hollow bones of said species persisted to present  and enabled Argentine experts to collect information on the syrinx structure, which is the tracheal area with which birds produce sound.

This is the first time we gain access to a Mesozoic bird which is well preserved and, particularly, to its phonatory structure,’ detailed Fernando Novas.

The team which achieved the goal is formed by professionals of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences ‘Bernardino Rivadavia’: Fernando Novas, a palaeontologist and the main researcher at CONICET; Marcelo Isasi, a laboratory technician specialised in fossils, and Federico L. Agnolin, a biologist and investigator. Daniel Martinioni, a geologist at the Austral Centre for Scientific Research (CADIC), and Francisco Mussel, a professional of the department of Geological Sciences of the School of Exact and Natural Sciences of Universidad de Buenos Aires, also participated.

The origin of birds has always been of worldwide interest,’ stated Novas. Some of the questions that science thrives to answer include: How did these vertebrates turn into flying animals? How did they learn to fly? How were the transformations they underwent? In this sense, the palaeontologist was unequivocal when he affirmed that birds and crocodiles are related to each other and that they are both descendants of the dinosaurs. Consequently, they have certain characteristics in common.

Nevertheless, this study determined that the communication mechanisms used by Vegavis are the result of a late specialization in evolution. This is significant, for it makes us think that dinosaurs (which lacked syrinx) produced sound with the upper part of the trachea, just like the majority of vertebrates.

This is the first time that we gain access to a Mesozoic bird which is well preserved and, particularly, to its phonatory structure,’ highlighted the CONICET investigator. He added: ‘The syrinx is making reference to sounds, behaviour and a wide range of aspects associated with the evolution of this form of communication through sound. Conversely, the rest of dinosaur fossils which have been discovered worldwide to present do not preserve this anatomical structure, which means they did not have this structure.

Julia Clarke and Zhiheng Li, two investigators of the University of Texas; Sankar Chartterjee, a curator at Museum of Texas Tech University, and Tobias Riede, a veterinary physiology professor of Midwestern University, also collaborated on these findings.

This is the first time that a study on the phylogenetic distribution of the syrinx is conducted,’ highlighted Novas at the end of his presentation, related to the work that placed  once again the Argentine palaeontology among the most prestigious scientific publications around the world, as I the journal named ‘Nature’.

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Novas summed up how interested science is in birds and their evolution.

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