Research Article

The early origin of a birdlike inner ear and the evolution of dinosaurian movement and vocalization

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Science  07 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6542, pp. 601-609
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb4305

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Revealing behavioral secrets in extinct species

Extinct species had complex behaviors, just like modern species, but fossils generally reveal little of these details. New approaches that allow for the study of structures that relate directly to behavior are greatly improving our understanding of the lifestyles of extinct animals (see the Perspective by Witmer). Hanson et al. looked at three-dimensional scans of archosauromorph inner ears and found clear patterns relating these bones to complex movement, including flight. Choiniere et al. looked at inner ears and scleral eye rings and found a clear emergence of patterns relating to nocturnality in early theropod evolution. Together, these papers reveal behavioral complexity and evolutionary patterns in these groups.

Science, this issue p. 601, p. 610; see also p. 575


Reptiles, including birds, exhibit a range of behaviorally relevant adaptations that are reflected in changes to the structure of the inner ear. These adaptations include the capacity for flight and sensitivity to high-frequency sound. We used three-dimensional morphometric analyses of a large sample of extant and extinct reptiles to investigate inner ear correlates of locomotor ability and hearing acuity. Statistical analyses revealed three vestibular morphotypes, best explained by three locomotor categories—quadrupeds, bipeds and simple fliers (including bipedal nonavialan dinosaurs), and high-maneuverability fliers. Troodontids fall with Archaeopteryx among the extant low-maneuverability fliers. Analyses of cochlear shape revealed a single instance of elongation, on the stem of Archosauria. We suggest that this transformation coincided with the origin of both high-pitched juvenile location, alarm, and hatching-synchronization calls and adult responses to them.

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