The craniofacial air sac system of Mesozoic birds (Aves)



    1. Museum of Natural History, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 66045, U.S.A.
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    • *Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, The John Hopkins University, school of Medicine, 725 North wolfe street, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, U.S.A.


Birds are characterized by pneumatization of their skeletons by epithelial diverticula from larger, air—filled cavities. The diverticula—or ‘air sacs’—that invade the postcranium result from outgrowths of the lungs; postcranial pneumaticity has been very well studied. Much more poorly understood are the air sacs that pneumatize the skull. Study of craniofacial pneumaticity in modern birds (Neornithes) indicates the presence of two separate systems: nasal pneumaticity and tympanic pneumaticity. The lacrimal and maxillary bones are pneumatized by diverticula of the main paranasal cavity, the antorbital sinus. There are five tympanic diverticula in neornithines that pneumatic the quadrate, articulare and the bones of the braincase. The pneumatic features of the following six genera of Mesozoic birds are examined: Archaeopteryx, Enaliornis, Baptornis, Parahesperornis, Hesperornis and Ichthyornis. Despite the ‘archaic’ aspect of most of these birds, many of the pneumatic features of neornithines are found in Mesozoic birds and are considered primitive for Aves. The phylogenetic levels at which most of the avian pneumatic features arose within Archosauria are uncertain. Until the phylogenetic levels at which homologous pneumatic features arose are determined, it is unwise to use most pneumatic characters in the discussion of avian origins. Within avian phylogeny, Ornithurae and Neornithes are well–supported by pneumatic synapomorphies. There is a trend towards reduction of craniofacial pneumaticity within Hesperornithiformes. Within Neornithes, four derived pneumatic characters suggest that the Palaeognathae (ratites and tinamous) is monophyletic.