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Abstract

The issue of the homology of bird fingers with those of pentadactyl amniotes has been a topic of contention for nearly 200 years. Data from the fossil record and phylogenetic systematics ascribe bird digit homologies to digits I, II, and III of pentadactyl amniotes while embryological evidence supports digital homologies of II, III, and IV. Using a molecular marker specific for condensation competent mesenchymal cells, we describe a pentadactyl arrangement of prechondrogenic digital anlagen in the wings of stage 29 chick embryos. Only the middle three anlagen develop into mature fingers. This pattern supports the hypothesis that bird fingers develop from digital anlagen II, III, and IV of pentadactylous amniotes. In addition, this result rejects a model assuming a shift in the primary axis in bird digit development and shows that a prechondrogenic digital anlage has been maintained in the bird lineage for at least 220 million years since the last known pentadactylous ancestor of the lineage. Such a vestige suggests that strong constraints are maintaining a pentadactyl ground state in amniotes. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 294:146–151, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.