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【光明日報】我國古生物學家發現“長臂渾元龍”

文章來源:光明日報 齊芳   發布時間:2019-05-10  【字號:     】  

  北京時間5月9日出版的學術期刊《自然》以封面文章的形式發表了中國科學院古脊椎動物與古人類研究所王敏、鄒晶梅、徐星、周忠和的研究成果:發現侏羅紀具膜質翅膀的恐龍——長臂渾元龍,揭示了演化過程中“一條匪夷所思的征服藍天之路”。

  長臂渾元龍標本是2017年中國科學院院士周忠和帶領團隊在遼寧晚侏羅世地層考察時獲得的一件新化石,發現于燕遼生物群晚侏羅世早期的海房溝組(距今約1.63億年)。經過長達一年的室內修理、實驗和對比研究,研究團隊復原了渾元龍,它體長約32厘米,體重約306克,為雜食性。研究人員認為其代表一新的善攀鳥龍類。渾元龍的正型標本是目前已知最完整的善攀鳥龍類化石,為了解這類恐龍提供了大量形態和生態學信息。

  周忠和介紹,在脊椎動物漫長的演化史中,翼龍、鳥類和蝙蝠獨立演化出了形態迥異的飛行結構。相較翼龍和蝙蝠不完整的化石記錄,隨著不斷發現的帶羽毛恐龍和早期鳥類化石,尤其得益于我國中晚侏羅世的燕遼生物群和早白堊世的熱河生物群,有關鳥類飛行起源這一重要科學問題取得了重要進展,而擅攀鳥龍類的發現則揭示了“一條匪夷所思的征服藍天之路”。

  王敏研究員介紹,善攀鳥龍類是恐龍家族中最為怪異的類群,生活在中—晚侏羅世,迄今發現的僅有三個屬種:寧城樹棲龍、胡氏耀龍和奇翼龍。善攀鳥龍類形態特殊,儼然是恐龍和鳥類的“混合體”,一度被認為是和鳥類具有最近親緣關系的獸腳類恐龍。但已發現的標本或不完整,或屬于幼年個體,大量形態特征難以觀察,使其在演化樹上的位置撲朔迷離。2015年徐星研究員等命名的奇翼龍更加為這一類群增添神秘色彩——奇翼龍的前肢附著翼膜,還具有一根棒狀長骨,這樣的長骨在其他恐龍(包括鳥類)中沒有對應的同源結構,因此,奇翼龍被復原成類似翼龍那樣具有膜質翅膀而能夠滑翔。但奇翼龍的標本僅有一件,保存又不完整,因此對于棒狀長骨和翼膜的結構還存有爭議。

  長臂渾元龍的發現或將為這樣的爭議畫上句號。渾元龍在肱骨近端關節面、手指和腰帶形態方面明顯不同于其他善攀鳥龍類,并且具有原始鳥類那樣的尾綜骨,如此縮短的尾骨能進一步將身體重心前移,有利于在飛行、滑翔時保持穩定。更為重要的是,研究人員在渾元龍身上發現了和奇翼龍相似的棒狀長骨和翼膜(翼膜中保存有色素體),這一新發現為棒狀長骨和翼膜在善攀鳥龍類中的出現提供了確切無疑的證據。

  研究人員認為,侏羅紀善攀鳥龍類的膜質翅膀與鳥類翅膀的原理不同,是一種完全不同的飛行嘗試。渾元龍的前肢異常加長,甚至超過了中生代多數鳥類。王敏介紹,研究人員采用基于系統發育關系的主成分分析方法,認為善攀鳥龍類通過加長的肱骨和尺骨、第三手指,與棒狀長骨來附著膜質的翅膀,是“膜質翅膀和短掌骨”飛行模式;而鳥類、馳龍類和傷齒龍類則需要較長的掌骨來附著飛羽,是“羽毛翅膀和長掌骨”飛行模式。

  王敏說:“已知的善攀鳥龍類均生活在晚侏羅世,類似的膜質翅膀沒有在之后的白堊紀恐龍中出現。而由飛羽構成的翅膀自晚侏羅世出現就延續到白堊紀,經過漫長的演化最終形成了鳥類的羽翼,使后者成了多樣性最豐富的現生四足動物。善攀鳥龍類獨特的飛行結構或許代表了飛行演化的一次短暫嘗試。”

  (原載于《光明日報》 2019-05-10 08版)




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