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驼背恐龙与鸟类的起源之谜

时间:2011-01-15 08:50 点击:
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最近,西班牙古生物学家发现了一种新恐龙,并且在其身上还发现了羽囊的最早证据。

该发现发表在最近出版的《自然》(Nature)杂志上,化石的产地位于西班牙中部的昆卡市附近。

他们将这种爬行动物命名为驼背昆卡猎龙(Concavenator corcovatus),意为“来自昆卡的驼背猎手”。这是一种兽脚亚目肉食恐龙。

兽脚类主要产自远古的南方大陆——冈瓦纳古陆。

随着时间的推移,冈瓦纳大陆与其他古陆分离,形成了今天的陆地格局。

最近,来自英国剑桥和美国的研究团队得出结论,认为兽脚类可能起源于北方大陆——劳亚古陆。

最原始的类型发现与英格兰和本次的西班牙。这些化石可以追溯到1亿-1.46亿年前的早白垩世。

兽脚类是恐龙家族很重要的一支,鸟类就是从它们中起源的。如在西班牙发现的这种,大部分兽脚类恐龙都是肉食者,也有一些是杂食者。

马德里自治大学的何塞·桑斯(Jose Sanz)教授说:“它们是非常重要的一类恐龙,鸟类是其中一支的后代。没有了鸟类,世界将完全不同。鸟类可以说是一种长着特化的翅膀,能够飞翔的兽脚类恐龙。”

这种恐龙骨架的不同寻常之处在于,连接后腿与脊柱的髂骨上有一个突起,前臂上大约有5个突起。

这些突起与现代鸟类羽毛的附着点很接近,用进化的词来说,就是羽毛出现的时代比之前认为的更加古老,

这一化石形成的时代是羽毛或类似羽毛的附属物开始出现的时代,但是这种恐龙来自一个更加原始的进化枝。

尽管这样的凸起在之前也在其他恐龙身上发现过,如迅猛龙(Velociraptor)。但是在一种与鸟类和先前已知的长羽毛的鸟类关系颇远的恐龙身上发现,却是第一次,也是非常有趣的。

这些突起于今天鸟类身上的很相似,只有两点不同。昆卡猎龙的突起少,而且排列不规则。

研究团队从进化的角度解读这些差异。他们认为在进化的历程中,突起进化为了现代鸟类具有的羽毛附着点。

在恐龙的脊柱上发现突起更是一个谜。在恐龙中,突起很普遍,可能是用来调节体温,特别是看起来像帆的那些,也可能是用作展示炫耀或者储存食物。

但该研究团队无法知道这里的突起是用来做什么的。

它们可能是用来调节体温的,因为正常的这种突起需要充足的血液供应,在骨骼周围可能存在有关证据,只是研究者没有发现。

此外,以前发现的恐龙的突起主要分布在肩部或背部中央,而这里的突起则处于尾巴的根部。

译文:Hump-backed dinosaur may yield clues to origin of birds

Artist's impression (Ortega/Sanz) Spanish palaeontologists have uncovered a new dinosaur with what may be the earliest evidence of feather follicles.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Nature, located the fossils near Cuenca, central Spain.

They named the reptile Concavenator corcovatus, meaning "meat eater from Cuenca with a hump". The type of dinosaur that was found is known as a theropod.

Theropods are mainly known from the ancient southern landmass, Gondwana.

Over time, Gondwana and other ancient landmasses broke up, forming the continents we see today.

Fossil and modern bones (Ortega/Sanz) Recently a team from Cambridge, UK, and the US showed that the theropods may have originated in the Northern landmass, Laurasia.

The most primitive forms have been found in England and now Spain. These finds date from the Lower Cretaceous, somewhere between 100 and 146 million years ago

Theropods are a very important group of dinosaurs because it is from this group that birds are known to originate. Most theropods, like the one found in Spain, are meat-eaters, though some were omnivores.

"They are a very important group of dinosaurs because within this group there are the birds. This world would not be the same without birds. Birds are really a kind of specialised winged and flying theropod dinosaur," said Professor Jose Sanz of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.

The dinosaur's unusual skeleton included a hump over the ilium - where the hind legs join the spine - and around five bumps on the forearm.

These bumps closely resemble the attachment points for feathers found in modern birds, and might present evidence that feathers are much older, in evolutionary terms, than previously thought.

The fossil dates from a time period when feathers or feather-like appendages have been seen, but the dinosaur is from a branch of the evolutionary tree that is more primitive.

Although these bumps have been seen in dinosaurs before - including Velociraptor, it is interesting and new to find this characteristic in a dinosaur that is so far removed from either birds or previous known feathered dinosaurs.

The bumps are very similar to those in present-day birds, with just two differences. There are fewer bumps in the Concavenator and they are not in such a regular arrangement.

The team interpret these differences in evolutionary terms. They suggest that over evolutionary time the bumps could have evolved into the feather attachments that are found in modern birds.

The hump found on the dinosaur's spine is more of a mystery, however. Humps are common in dinosaurs, and can be used for heat regulation - when they might look like a kind of sail - for display, or for food storage.

Scientists and fossil (Ortega/Sanz) The team cannot work out what this hump might be for, though.

It is probably not for heat regulation, since normally a hump of this type would need an extensive blood supply, and there would be evidence within the surrounding bone - the team did not find this.

Also, most previous dinosaur humps have been found around the shoulders or the centre of the back - this hump is further towards the tail.

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