Friday, May 28, 2010

Another thing to watch for

Let's take a look at another form of misleading dino to bird argument. Evidence which can be explained in a very simple alternate way is instead touted to support a dino to bird theory.
As an example, here is an article on the subject of dinosaur "air sacs" and the idea that dinosaurs had a breathing system like modern birds:

Evidence for Avian Intrathoracic Air Sacs in a New Predatory Dinosaur from Argentina
"Living birds possess a unique heterogeneous pulmonary system composed of a rigid, dorsally-anchored lung and several compliant air sacs that operate as bellows, driving inspired air through the lung [during exhalation]. Evidence from the fossil record for the origin and evolution of this system is extremely limited, because lungs do not fossilize and because the bellow-like air sacs in living birds only rarely penetrate (pneumatize) skeletal bone and thus leave a record of their presence.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We describe a new predatory dinosaur from Upper Cretaceous rocks in Argentina, Aerosteon riocoloradensis gen. et sp. nov., that exhibits extreme pneumatization of skeletal bone, including pneumatic hollowing of the furcula and ilium. In living birds, these two bones are pneumatized by diverticulae of air sacs (clavicular, abdominal) that are involved in pulmonary ventilation. We also describe several pneumatized gastralia (“stomach ribs”), which suggest that diverticulae of the air sac system were present in surface tissues of the thorax.
We present a four-phase model for the evolution of avian air sacs and costosternal-driven lung ventilation based on the known fossil record of theropod dinosaurs and osteological correlates in extant birds:
(1) Phase I—Elaboration of paraxial cervical air sacs in basal theropods no later than the earliest Late Triassic.
(2) Phase II—Differentiation of avian ventilatory air sacs, including both cranial (clavicular air sac) and caudal (abdominal air sac) divisions, in basal tetanurans during the Jurassic. A heterogeneous respiratory tract with compliant air sacs, in turn, suggests the presence of rigid, dorsally attached lungs with flow-through ventilation.
(3) Phase III—Evolution of a primitive costosternal pump in maniraptoriform theropods before the close of the Jurassic.
(4) Phase IV—Evolution of an advanced costosternal pump in maniraptoran theropods before the close of the Jurassic.
In addition, we conclude:
(5) The advent of avian unidirectional lung ventilation is not possible to pinpoint, as osteological correlates have yet to be identified for uni- or bidirectional lung ventilation.
(6) The origin and evolution of avian air sacs may have been driven by one or more of the following three factors: flow-through lung ventilation, locomotory balance, and/or thermal regulation."Paul C. Sereno1*, Ricardo N. Martinez2, Jeffrey A. Wilson3, David J. Varricchio4, Oscar A. Alcober2, Hans C. E. Larsson5
Aerosteon is a genus of allosauroid theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period of Argentina. Its remains were discovered in 1996 in the province of Mendoza. They show evidence of a bird-like respiratory system.[1]
Sereno theorises that this respiratory system may have developed to assist with regulating body temperature and was later co-opted for breathing.[1]
Note a few things here.
First the researchers simply found "pneumatization of skeletal bone, including pneumatic hollowing of the furcula and ilium."
Everything else - about air sacs and breathing systems - is simply speculation.
But this speculation is then simply passed on as given, as we see in the wikipedia reference.

And in fact the simpler explanations (that are mentioned at the end) - for example "thermal regulation" - are ignored.
This is something we must keep alert to. Evidence which can be explained in a very simple alternate way is instead touted to support a dino to bird theory.
When the dino to bird theorist states that there is a huge amount of supporting evidence, it is often just this kind of speculation that is actually at the bottom of it.

Additional irony:
Even Sereno is "especially intrigued" by the simpler, reasonable explanation:
Sereno, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, said he is especially intrigued by heat loss, given that Aerosteon was likely a high-energy predator with feathers but without the sweat glands that birds possess. At approximately 30 feet in length and weighing as much as an elephant, Aerosteon might well have used an air system under the skin to rid itself of unwanted heat.
Evidence for Avian Intrathoracic Air Sacs in a New Predatory Dinosaur from Argentina
Paul C. Sereno et al
Research on the gastral cuirass in archosaurs led to the suggestion that it may have functioned as an accessory aspiration pump in nonavian dinosaurs [81][83]. Although Claessens drew attention to the relationship between the gastral cuirass and abdominal air sacs, he concluded that “it appears impossible to ascertain exactly when lung diverticula stretching throughout the whole body cavity or unidirectional airflow originated” [83:102]. Later a “caudal origin model” for air sacs and flow-through lung ventilation (either uni- or bidirectional) was proposed [33: 255] based on (1) the presence of abdominal air sacs (inferred from posterior dorsal and sacral pneumaticity), (2) a dynamic gastral cuirass, and (3) vertebrocostal articulations in the posterior ribcage that allow greater excursion during aspiration (inferred from the more horizontal arrangement of posterior rib articulations). An independent study of rib morphology, in contrast, concluded that nonavian dinosaurs were characterized by an “anteriorly ventilated bellows lung[84: 47].
In 1868 Thomas Huxley first proposed that dinosaurs were the direct ancestors of birds and subsequent analyses have identified a suite of ‘avian’ characteristics in theropod dinosaurs. Ossified uncinate processes are found in most species of extant birds and also occur in extinct non-avian maniraptoran dinosaurs. Their presence in these dinosaurs represents another morphological character linking them to Aves, and further
supports the presence of an avian-like air-sac respiratory system in theropod dinosaurs, prior to the evolution of flight. Here we report a phylogenetic analysis of the presence of uncinate processes in Aves and non-avian maniraptoran dinosaurs indicating that these were homologous structures. Furthermore, recent work on Canada geese has demonstrated that uncinate processes are integral to the mechanics of avian ventilation,
facilitating both inspiration and expiration. In extant birds, uncinate processes function to increase the mechanical advantage for movements of the ribs and sternum during respiration. Our study presents a mechanism whereby uncinate processes, in conjunction with lateral and ventral movements of the sternum and gastral basket, affected avian-like breathing mechanics in extinct non-avian maniraptoran dinosaurs.
Pneumatic (air-filled) postcranial bones are unique to birds among extant tetrapods. Unambiguous skeletal correlates of postcranial pneumaticity first appeared in the Late Triassic (approximately 210 million years ago), when they evolved independently in several groups of bird-line archosaurs (ornithodirans). These include the theropod dinosaurs (of which birds are extant representatives), the pterosaurs, and sauropodomorph dinosaurs. Postulated functions of skeletal pneumatisation include weight reduction in large-bodied or flying taxa, and density reduction resulting in
energetic savings during foraging and locomotion. However, the influence of these hypotheses on the early evolution of pneumaticity has not been studied in detail previously. We review recent work on the significance of pneumaticity for understanding the biology of extinct ornithodirans, and present detailed new data on the proportion of the skeleton that was pneumatised in 131 non-avian theropods and Archaeopteryx. This includes all taxa known from significant postcranial remains. Pneumaticity of the cervical and anterior dorsal vertebrae occurred early in theropod evolution.
This ‘common pattern’ was conserved on the line leading to birds, and is likely present in Archaeopteryx. Increases in skeletal pneumaticity occurred independently in as many as 12 lineages, highlighting a remarkably high number of parallel acquisitions of a bird-like feature among non-avian theropods. Using a quantitative comparative framework, we show that evolutionary increases in skeletal pneumaticity are significantly concentrated in lineages with large body size, suggesting that mass reduction in response to gravitational constraints at large body sizes influenced the early evolution of pneumaticity. However, the body size threshold for extensive pneumatisation is lower in theropod lineages more closely related to birds (maniraptorans). Thus, relaxation of the relationship between body size and pneumatisation preceded the origin of birds and cannot be explained as an adaptation for flight. We hypothesise that skeletal density modulation in small, non-volant, maniraptorans resulted in energetic savings as part of a multi-system response to increased metabolic demands. Acquisition of extensive postcranial pneumaticity in small-bodied maniraptorans may indicate avian-like high-performance endothermy.
Pterosaurs, enigmatic extinct Mesozoic reptiles, were the first vertebrates to achieve true flapping flight. Various lines of evidence provide strong support for highly efficient wing design, control, and flight capabilities. However, little is known of the pulmonary system that powered flight in pterosaurs. We investigated the structure and function of the pterosaurian breathing apparatus through a broad scale comparative study of respiratory structure and function in living and extinct archosaurs, using computer-assisted tomographic (CT) scanning of pterosaur and bird skeletal remains, cineradiographic (Xray film) studies of the skeletal breathing pump in extant birds and alligators, and study of skeletal structure in historic fossil specimens. In this report we present various lines of skeletal evidence that indicate that pterosaurs had a highly effective flow-through respiratory system, capable of sustaining powered flight, predating the appearance of an analogous breathing system in birds by approximately seventy million years. Convergent evolution of gigantism in several Cretaceous pterosaur lineages was made possible through body density reduction by expansion of the pulmonary air sac system throughout the trunk and the distal limb girdle skeleton, highlighting the importance of respiratory adaptations in pterosaur evolution, and the dramatic effect of the release of physical constraints on morphological diversification and evolutionary radiation.
The specimen is also unusual in that it preserves some soft tissue remains: apart from the intestine, what the describers interpreted to have been an air sac was preserved between its pubic and ischial bones in the form of a vacuity. Previous workers had suggested that non-avian theropods might — like birds — possess post-cranial air sacs, and Mirischia seems to confirm that. Another notable trait is the exceptional thinness of the bone wall of all skeletal elements.[2]
John Ruben et al. (1997, 1999, 2003, 2004) disputed this and suggested that dinosaurs had a "tidal" respiratory system (in and out) powered by a crocodile-like hepatic piston mechanism – muscles attached mainly to the pubis pull the liver backwards, which makes the lungs expand to inhale; when these muscles relax, the lungs return to their previous size and shape, and the animal exhales. They also presented this as a reason for doubting that birds descended from dinosaurs.[5][6][7][8][9]Critics have claimed that, without avian air sacs, modest improvements in a few aspects of a modern reptile's circulatory and respiratory systems would enable the reptile to achieve 50% to 70% of the oxygen flow of a mammal of similar size,[10] and that lack of avian air sacs would not prevent the development of endothermy.[11] Very few formal rebuttals have been published in scientific journals of Ruben et al.’s claim that dinosaurs could not have had avian-style air sacs; but one points out that the Sinosauropteryx fossil on which they based much of their argument was severely flattened and therefore it was impossible to tell whether the liver was the right shape to act as part of a hepatic piston mechanism.[12] Some recent papers simply note without further comment that Ruben et al. argued against the presence of air sacs in dinosaurs.[13]

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