STL Science Center

STL Science Center

01 May 2012

Hotly Debated Topics

I almost hit the goldmine for papers today, but sadly, the links on one of my favorite paper collections, The Theropod Archives, have been taken down since posted. That is very sad for the scientific community and for our group specifically because there were a good number of hard to find articles on there that just are not hosted online anymore most likely due to copyright problems.

Anyway, there are a number of the papers that are available online in part because this is such a highly debatable dinosaur find that it has drawn many scientists into the fray and they have published their individual studies. There are a good number of angles represented in the three papers and one article that I have for today. The first paper is the paper which names the animal genus and species and describes the fossil. Ji and Ji do a very good job of describing the animal from its fossil and consider it to be a small primitive bird rather than a small dinosaur. That is perfectly fine and it takes away from absolutely nothing about the animal in terms of dinosaur or bird structuring of the skeleton. They state assertively, as most scientists tend to do in their papers, that this is definitively a bird and belongs in the class Aves; therein starts the debate that is still going on unresolved.

Larry Martin, an opponent of the dinosaur to birds theory, believes that another branch of reptile in the Triassic led to birds independently from dinosaur routes and that feathered dinosaurs are in fact giant flightless birds. Last I checked at least, feel free to update me. Regardless at the moment, we have a paper from Dr. Martin which discusses the evidence of feather evolution in the fossil record. His assertion related to Sinosauropteryx is just as stated above; he sees the "dinosaur" as a flightless bird of the Cretaceous. This is well and good and it gives another unique side to the bird-dinosaur debate and thereby, typically, leads to interesting conversations. It is a side worth reading and entertaining even if you are a solid bird-dinosaur person.

In a slightly similar to Martin paper by Lingham-Soliar, Feduccia, and Wang the argument is made that these are not feathers at all but degraded collagen that is present in the Sinosauropteryx fossils. What does that mean to us? It means that these scientists are saying that these "feathers" as viewed by Ji and Ji, Martin, Currie, and others, are actually support structures which existed to toughen up the skeleton and not actually feathers at all. I think this paper is interesting and certainly a good read. It's an interesting take on the debates over Sinosauropteryx for sure.

The last article today is by Unwin in a January 1998 volume of Nature (if he has since reversed his opinion on Sinosauropteryx and feathering I cannot say). In the article he describes some of the interesting finds in the many Sinosauropteryx finds to that date including eggs, meals, and the feathering. Also, he differs from Martin in comparing Sinosauropteryx to, as he calls it, its relative, the dinosaur Compsognathus. Though dated, this is a good article to read not just about Sinosauropteryx, but to get a better picture of the history of feathering and other structures in a small convenient article.

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