The fossil record and limb disparity of enantiornithines, the dominant flying birds of the Cretaceous




Gareth J. Dyke [], School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; Robert L. Nudds [], Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK; Present address: Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Jacksons Mill, PO Box 88, Sackville St, Manchester M1 3NJ, UK; manuscript received on 29/4/2008; manuscript accepted on 12/7/2008.


Morphometric and stratigraphic analyses that encompass the known fossil record of enantiornithine birds (Enantiornithes) are presented. These predominantly flighted taxa were the dominant birds of the second half of the Mesozoic; the enantiornithine lineage is known to have lasted for at least 60 million years (Ma), up until the end of the Cretaceous. Analyses of fossil record dynamics show that enantiornithine ‘collectorship’ since the 1980s approaches an exponential distribution, indicating that an asymptote in proportion of specimens has yet to be achieved. Data demonstrate that the fossil record of enantiornithines is complete enough for the extraction of biological patterns. Comparison of the available fossil specimens with a large data set of modern bird (Neornithes) limb proportions also illustrates that the known forelimb proportions of enantiornithines fall within the range of extant taxa; thus these birds likely encompassed the range of flight styles of extant birds. In contrast, most enantiornithines had hindlimb proportions that differ from any extant taxa. To explore this, ternary diagrams are used to graph enantiornithine limb variation and to identify some morphological oddities (Otogornis, Gobipteryx); taxa not directly comparable to modern birds. These exceptions are interesting – although anatomically uniform, and similar to extant avians in their wing proportions, some fossil enantiornithines likely had flight styles not seen among their living counterparts.