Sunday, January 02, 2011

How Did Dinosaurs Evolve Flight?

Tim Sayell sends in an article from Yahoo news that I think everyone will find interesting. The article lays out discoveries that may lead to how dinosaurs evolved flight behavior.

The research centers around reconstructing the brains of extinct birds. Researchers are attempting to discern when birds started down the road from land animals to ones of the air.

Most evidence to date suggests that this process took place around 150 million years ago but the critical part missing is at what point did the "bird" finally make the break towards true flight.

From the Yahoo article:

Scientists in Scotland are focusing on changes in the size of a part of the rear of the brain. This part of the cerebellum, known as the flocculus, is responsible for integrating visual and balance signals during flight, allowing birds to judge the position of other objects in midflight.....

Being able to understand when this structure changed will give researchers a clearer idea when flight first took place.

Researchers feel that an understanding of how the flocculus has evolved to deal with different flying abilities will give them new understanding about when birds first evolved the power of flight. To this end, they will study both birds that fly and those that have lost the ability, both extinct and present day.

Again, from the article:

The researchers are looking for a link between a larger flocculus and a greater ability to process the visual and balance signals during flight. If the relationship is proven, it could mark a major step forward in understanding bird evolution, and even might help resolve the controversy over whether some ancient bird-like fossils were truly those of dinosaurs or simply of birds that lost the power of flight.

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