Lung Structure and Ventilation in Theropod Dinosaurs and Early Birds

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Science  14 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5341, pp. 1267-1270
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5341.1267

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Reptiles and birds possess septate lungs rather than the alveolar-style lungs of mammals. The morphology of the unmodified, bellowslike septate lung restricts the maximum rates of respiratory gas exchange. Among taxa possessing septate lungs, only the modified avian flow-through lung is capable of the oxygen–carbon dioxide exchange rates that are typical of active endotherms. Paleontological and neontological evidence indicates that theropod dinosaurs possessed unmodified, bellowslike septate lungs that were ventilated with a crocodilelike hepatic-piston diaphragm. The earliest birds (Archaeopteryx and enantiornithines) also possessed unmodified septate lungs but lacked a hepatic-piston diaphragm mechanism. These data are consistent with an ectothermic status for theropod dinosaurs and early birds.

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