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Assistance needed for dinosaur research

Researchers at the University of Birmingham studying dinosaur biology and evolution are currently engaged in a project to understand the growth strategies of dinosaurs, which involves studying the internal bone structure through growth in the limbs (wings and legs) of several species of living birds.

They would like to study pigeon bones through growth as part of this, and are appealing for our help. Professor Richard Butler explains:

   “Passionate bird breeders may well know that birds are in fact living and breathing dinosaurs! Birds evolved from within the group of meat-eating dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and survived the asteroid strike that wiped out all other dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The closest extinct relatives of today’s birds are ‘dinobirds’ such as Velociraptor, mostly small carnivores which showed a mixture of reptile and bird features, such as a long bony tail and toothed jaws but also true wings with aerodynamically adapted flight feathers. Although a lot is already known about how running dinosaurs evolved into flying birds, there are still major gaps in our knowledge. Understanding modern birds is a key step in understanding their long extinct dinosaur ancestors. Our research team at the University of Birmingham are planning to look inside the bones of modern birds to understand how bone structure changes through growth in different bird species. Using this information, we will study the fossil bones of ‘dinobirds’ to work out whether they were able to fly, and when flight first evolved.

   “However, to complete this scientific research project, we need your help! We’re looking for bird breeders who raise pigeons, or other species (e.g. crows, owls or large-bodied parrots), and are willing to provide fresh cadavers of differently aged juveniles (3–5 different growth stages per species) and fully-grown birds. Birds must not be killed for the purpose of this study; we are only able to use specimens that died in the breeding program due to natural causes. Species and breeds with adult sizes in the weight range of about 0.5–2 kg (e.g. larger bodied homing pigeons, such the American Giant Homer) are most desired. As this study focuses on natural adaptations in bone tissues, it is important that the deceased specimens were kept under conditions where they could run and fly relatively freely and that their anatomy does not show extreme skeletal or postural deviations from the wild form. Hence, mass-bred, over domesticated birds raised in confined spaces (cages or crowded, small enclosures) with no ability to run or fly are not desired.

   “Freshly deceased specimens should be placed in a freezer as soon as possible with a label indicating species/breed, age at death, cause of death (if known or presumed), gender (if known), and possibly fresh weight, and they should be kept deep-frozen until they are collected by the research team. For this reason, we are most interested to hear from breeders within relatively close proximity (up to two hours) from Birmingham.

   “If you are interested in this scientific project and feel you could help it by offering deceased bird specimens, please contact Prof. Richard Butler at [email protected] or on 0121 414 5539 or Dr. Edina Prondvai at [email protected] for further information. Contributors will be acknowledged in scientific publications as well as offered a guided tour of the Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham, which charts the evolution of life over the last 4.5 billion years.”

Images © Fred Wierum and © FunkMonk

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