Allometric wing growth links parental care to pterosaur giantism

Zixiao Yang*, Baoyu Jiang, Michael J Benton, Xing Xu, Maria E McNamara, David W E Hone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Pterosaurs evolved a broad range of body sizes, from small-bodied early forms with wingspans of mostly 1-2 m to the last-surviving giants with sizes of small airplanes. Since all pterosaurs began life as small hatchlings, giant forms must have attained large adult sizes through new growth strategies, which remain largely unknown. Here we assess wing ontogeny and performance in the giant Pteranodon and the smaller-bodied anurognathids Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactylus and Sinopterus. We show that most smaller-bodied pterosaurs shared negative allometry or isometry in the proximal elements of the fore- and hindlimbs, which were critical elements for powering both flight and terrestrial locomotion, whereas these show positive allometry in Pteranodon. Such divergent growth allometry typically signals different strategies in the precocial-altricial spectrum, suggesting more altricial development in Pteranodon. Using a biophysical model of powered and gliding flight, we test and reject the hypothesis that an aerodynamically superior wing planform could have enabled Pteranodon to attain its larger body size. We therefore propose that a shift from a plesiomorphic precocial state towards a derived state of enhanced parental care may have relaxed the constraints of small body sizes and allowed the evolution of derived flight anatomies critical for the flying giants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20231102
Pages (from-to)20231102
JournalProceedings. Biological sciences
Volume290
Issue number2003
Early online date19 Jul 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship (grant no. GOIPD/2021/900) to Z.Y., and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41688103 and 41672010) and Strategic Priority Research Program (B) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant no. XDB26000000) to B.J. Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.

Keywords

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Fossils
  • Wings, Animal
  • Locomotion
  • Body Size
  • Flight, Animal

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