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PLoS One. 2008 May 28;3(5):e2271. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002271.

A reappraisal of azhdarchid pterosaur functional morphology and paleoecology.

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  • 1School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, United Kingdom. Mark.Witton@port.ac.uk

Abstract

Azhdarchid pterosaurs were among the most widespread and successful of pterosaur clades, but their paleoecology remains controversial. Morphological features common to all azhdarchids include a long, shallow rostrum; elongate, cylindrical cervical vertebrae that formed a long and unusually inflexible neck; and proportionally short wings with an abbreviated fourth phalanx. While azhdarchids have been imagined as vulture-like scavengers, sediment probers, swimmers, waders, aerial predators, or stork-like generalists, most recent authors have regarded them as skim-feeders, trawling their lower jaws through water during flight and seizing aquatic prey from the water's surface. Although apparently widely accepted, the skim-feeding model lacks critical support from anatomy and functional morphology. Azhdarchids lack the many cranial specialisations exhibited by extant skim-feeding birds, most notably the laterally compressed lower jaw and shock absorbing apparatus required for this feeding style. Well-preserved azhdarchid skulls are rare, but their rostra and lower jaws appear to have been sub-triangular in cross-section, and thus dissimilar to those of skim-feeders and sediment probers. Taphonomic data indicates that azhdarchids predominately inhabited inland settings, and azhdarchid morphology indicates that they were poorly suited for all proposed lifestyles bar wading and terrestrial foraging. However, azhdarchid footprints show that their feet were relatively small, padded and slender, and thus not well suited for wading. We argue that azhdarchids were stork- or ground hornbill-like generalists, foraging in diverse environments for small animals and carrion. Proficient terrestrial abilities and a relatively inflexible neck are in agreement with this interpretation.

PMID:
18509539
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2386974
Free PMC Article

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