Thursday, August 04, 2005

591: Basic avian pulmonary design and flow-through ventilation in non-avian theropod dinosaurs : Nature

Basic avian pulmonary design and flow-through ventilation in non-avian theropod dinosaurs : Nature:

Birds are unique among living vertebrates in possessing pneumaticity of the postcranial skeleton, with invasion of bone by the pulmonary air-sac system1, 2, 3, 4. The avian respiratory system includes high-compliance air sacs that ventilate a dorsally fixed, non-expanding parabronchial lung2, 3, 5, 6. Caudally positioned abdominal and thoracic air sacs are critical components of the avian aspiration pump, facilitating flow-through ventilation of the lung and near-constant airflow during both inspiration and expiration, highlighting a design optimized for efficient gas exchange2, 5, 6, 7, 8. Postcranial skeletal pneumaticity has also been reported in numerous extinct archosaurs including non-avian theropod dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx9, 10, 11, 12. However, the relationship between osseous pneumaticity and the evolution of the avian respiratory apparatus has long remained ambiguous. Here we report, on the basis of a comparative analysis of region-specific pneumaticity with extant birds, evidence for cervical and abdominal air-sac systems in non-avian theropods, along with thoracic skeletal prerequisites of an avian-style aspiration pump. The early acquisition of this system among theropods is demonstrated by examination of an exceptional new specimen of Majungatholus atopus, documenting these features in a taxon only distantly related to birds. Taken together, these specializations imply the existence of the basic avian pulmonary Bauplan in basal neotheropods, indicating that flow-through ventilation of the lung is not restricted to birds but is probably a general theropod characteristic.
Fossilized evidence that birds' lungs are structured like dinosaur lungs, further strengthening the hypothesis that birds descended from dinosaurs.