Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, scientists have revealed.
Theropods shrunk 12 times from 163kg to 0.8kg before becoming modern birds.
The researchers found theropods were the only dinosaurs to get continuously smaller.
Their skeletons also changed four times faster than other dinosaurs, helping them to survive.
They found that the dinosaur group directly related to birds shrank rapidly from about 200 million years ago.
It showed a decrease in body mass of 162.2kg (25st 7lb) from the largest average body size to Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird.
These bird ancestors also evolved new adaptations, including feathers, wishbones and wings, four times faster than other dinosaurs.
Shrinking and new bird-like traits jointly influenced the transition of dinosaurs to birds, researchers say.
The researchers concluded that the evolution of the branch of dinosaurs leading to birds was more innovative than other dinosaur lineages.
|Because our results allow us to map the appearance dates of lineages onto the phylogeny, we can see that evolutionary rates across part of the lineage leading to birds occurred much faster than expected compared to the rest of the tree – up to four times faster, in fact (Lee et al. 2014a). This seemingly explains why several groups of tetanuran theropods – allosauroids, tyrannosauroids, compsognathids and others – appear near-simultaneously in the fossil record: it seems that the time intervals between their originations really were very short. Why evolution was occurring so rapidly in these animals remains, of course, an unknown.|
The study itself:
The study Supplementary Material:
Also see here:
Comparison with the Cambrian Explosion
The near-simultaneous appearance of most modern animal body plans (phyla) ~530 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion is strong evidence for a brief interval of rapid phenotypic and genetic innovation, yet the exact speed and nature of this grand adaptive radiation remain debated [1–12]. Crucially, rates of morphological evolution in the past (i.e., in ancestral lineages) can be inferred from phenotypic differences among living organisms—just as molecular evolutionary rates in ancestral lineages can be inferred from genetic divergences . We here employed Bayesian  and maximum likelihood  phylogenetic clock methods on an extensive anatomicaland genomic data set for arthropods, the most diverse phylum in the Cambrian and today. Assuming an Ediacaran origin for arthropods, phenotypic evolution was ~4 times faster, and molecular evolution ~5.5 times faster, during the Cambrian explosion compared to all subsequent parts of the Phanerozoic. These rapid evolutionary rates are robust to assumptions about the precise age of arthropods. Surprisingly,these fast early rates do not change substantially even if the radiation of arthropods is compressed entirely into the Cambrian (~542 mega-annum [Ma]) or telescoped into the Cryogenian (~650 Ma). The fastest inferred rates are still consistent with evolution by natural selection and with data from living organisms, potentially resolving ‘‘Darwin’s dilemma.’’ However, evolution during the Cambrian explosion was unusual (compared to the subsequent Phanerozoic) in that fast rates were present across many lineages.This means that the dino to bird theory is right up there with the Cambrian Explosion in terms of it being very unusual.
The near-simultaneity and the much faster rates of evolution required by the dino to bird theory are VERY UNUSUAL. As unusual as the Cambrian Explosion.