A new study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides yet more evidence that birds did not descend from ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs, experts say, and continues to challenge decades of accepted theories about the evolution of flight.
A new analysis was done of an unusual fossil specimen discovered in 2003 called “microraptor,” in which three-dimensional models were used to study its possible flight potential, and it concluded this small, feathered species must have been a “glider” that came down from trees. The research is well done and consistent with a string of studies in recent years that pose increasing challenge to the birds-from-dinosaurs theory, said John Ruben, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University who authored a commentary in PNAS on the new research.
The weight of the evidence is now suggesting that not only did birds not descend from dinosaurs, Ruben said, but that some species now believed to be dinosaurs may have descended from birds.
“We’re finally breaking out of the conventional wisdom of the last 20 years, which insisted that birds evolved from dinosaurs and that the debate is all over and done with,” Ruben said. “This issue isn’t resolved at all. There are just too many inconsistencies with the idea that birds had dinosaur ancestors, and this newest study adds to that.”
Almost 20 years of research at OSU on the morphology of birds and dinosaurs, along with other studies and the newest PNAS research, Ruben said, are actually much more consistent with a different premise — that birds may have had an ancient common ancestor with dinosaurs, but they evolved separately on their own path, and after millions of years of separate evolution birds also gave rise to the raptors. Small animals such as velociraptor that have generally been thought to be dinosaurs are more likely flightless birds, he said.
“Raptors look quite a bit like dinosaurs but they have much more in common with birds than they do with other theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus,” Ruben said. “We think the evidence is finally showing that these animals which are usually considered dinosaurs were actually descended from birds, not the other way around.” …