birding-aus found in "Nature" magazine

To: "" <>
Subject: birding-aus found in "Nature" magazine
From: Anne & Roger Green <>
Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 22:29:22 +0930
I found this while "surfing" and thought it might be of interest in "the
Land of Parrots"
>                      An academic squabble over dead parrots has broken out in
>                      the pages of the science magazine Nature. Last year, 
> Thomas
>                      Stidham of the University of California, Berkeley 
> described
>                      in Nature a small piece of a fossil jawbone of what he
>                      claimed to have been from a parrot. The fossil would have
>                      supported a horny beak very like that seen in a 
> present-day
>                      parrot, and had other features suggesting that its owner 
> had
>                      once been of the psittacine persuasion. 
>                      The surprise was the fossil's age -- 70 million years. 
> This
>                      set feathers flying in the ornithological community, 
> because
>                      it flew in the face of conventional wisdom that no 
> parrots
>                      existed that could have perched on the shoulders of
>                      dinosaurs, way back in the Cretaceous period. Apart from 
> a
>                      few seabirds, no representatives of any modern group of
>                      bird was thought to have appeared until after the 
> dinosaurs
>                      had become extinct, 65 million years ago. 
>                      When Stidham showed the fossil to other specialists, he 
> met
>                      with opposition: people were quite prepared to believe 
> that
>                      this fossil was of a parrot until he revealed its age, he
>                      recalled at a palaeontological conference last year. 
> Nobody
>                      believed that a fossil parrot could be that old.
>                      Gareth Dyke of the University of Bristol, UK, and Gerald
>                      Mayr of the Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg,
>                      Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, have studied the oldest 
> fossil
>                      parrots generally recognized as such. These come from the
>                      Eocene epoch and are around 40 million years old. In a
>                      letter in the 27 May issue of Nature, they question 
> whether
>                      Stidham's fossil could have come from a parrot. They 
> point
>                      to features of the fossil which resemble features seen in
>                      certain theropod dinosaurs, as well as other birds. 
>                      Stidham is robust in defence of his fossil's parentage: 
> in a
>                      published response, he chides Dyke and Mayr for not
>                      coming up with a credible alternative identity for the 
> fossil.
>                      Rather than pecking at individual features, says 
> Stidham, his
>                      critics should come up with an idea of which animal -- 
> other
>                      than a parrot -- exhibits all the features shown by his 
> fossil. 
>                      But Stidham's language about the role of conventional
>                      wisdom is fighting talk indeed: "It seems less than
>                      defensible", he says, "to propose that we cannot have
>                      Cretaceous parrots because the oldest well preserved 
> fossils
>                      known so far are Eocene." It is hard to argue with the 
> logic
>                      of this bold statement. 
>                      However, it could be that the flap will not die down 
> until
>                      and unless somebody disinters more complete remains of a
>                      parrot from Cretaceous strata. Even though it is hard to
>                      imagine what else Stidham's fossil could have come from 
> if
>                      not a parrot, it is a surprising fact that the curved 
> parrot-like
>                      beak we think of as uniquely parrot-like is not found in 
> all
>                      parrots: indeed, the Eocene specimens did not have
>                      'parrot-like' beaks, and are recognized as parrots on the
>                      basis of skeletal features. 

 Anne & Roger A. Green
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