Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review of 2013

It's been an interesting year for this blog. The number of blog posts on here has continued the pattern of dwindling each successive year. This was in part because I have been busier than usual over the last third of 2013, but even prior to that, I hadn't done much on here. That includes the fact that I still haven't written up the reviews and reports I said I would; at this point I have doubts that I ever will myself. I'm consistently impressed by other bloggers who are able to almost constantly produce high-quality content at a fairly regular pace, and have done so for many years at that. Many of them must live even busier lives than mine; the fact that they are still able to make time for blogging is almost magical (though I'm aware that in reality they're probably taking a large chunk of what little excess time they have that they could otherwise be using to get extra sleep and such in order to achieve that - so rock on, all you superbloggers out there).

Despite my inactivity, the year hasn't been a complete waste as far as the blog is concerned. Most importantly, I started drawing comics for it again, which is a big plus in my book. More specifically, I transitioned to digital art and updated the characters to be more scientifically accurate and reflective of my current artistic style. I also started using a Tumblr to increase my production of new material for the comic. Although I haven't been able to maintain activity during busier periods, I've still been drawing these far more frequently than I did over the previous two years, so I'll consider the Tumblr experiment a success, with hopes that it'll continue to be so (if irregularly) in the future. A few other odds and ends I posted included a few trip reports, finished a meme I said I'd fill out years ago, and the requisite April Fools' joke. I also received another piece of fan art this year, and I won't lie, as much as creative endeavors should be done of one's own accord, knowing that people like your output is a great motivator.

A digitized and revamped dramatis personae of the characters on Raptormaniacs.

Living in the golden age of dinosaur discoveries as we are, it's no surprise there was plenty of new research on maniraptors being churned out the past year. In January, new studies came out on tail function in dromaeosaurids and oviraptorosaurs. The osteology of the oviraptorosaur Khaan was described in detail. New specimens of the Cretaceous euornithine Archaeorhynchus were published. The songbird syrinx was visualized in 3D. The correlation between flightlessness and cranial morphology in birds was established. Some Confuciusornis specimens that lacked long retrices were confirmed female, as had been long suspected. Multivariate analysis was done on Late Cretaceous small theropod (mostly maniraptor) teeth. Other studies were done on the lack of friendships in chickens, navigation in king penguin chicks and pigeons, genomic diversity in pigeons, the benefits of pheomelanin for birds, and cultural evolution in the songs of savannah sparrows. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithine Sulcavis geeorum, the basal paravian Eosinopteryx brevipenna, the Oligocene anseriform Saintandrea chenoides, and the oviraptorosaur Yulong mini, the last known only from juvenile specimens. 2013 was a good year for oviraptorosaurs, although I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the newly coined names to come being synonymized with one another in the future. And alas, we did not get the long-awaited large Hell Creek oviraptorosaur. 2014 maybe?

Reconstruction of the tail musculature of Ajancingenia, from Persons et al., 2013.

In February, evidence was presented that Eurasian jays take into account the desires of others when sharing food. Ultraviolet vision was found to have evolved multiple times in birds. The detailed osteology of the unusual paravian Balaur was described. The behavioral responses to inequity in corvids were evaluated. A large phylogeny of maniraptors was published, with many unconventional results (such as microraptorians, troodonts, and unenlagiines not being deinonychosaurs). The age of crown group passerines and the gastrointestinal parasites of moa were also studied. Newly-named maniraptors included the Miocene auk Divisulcus demerei and the Rinjani scops owl (Otus jolandae).

Rinjani scops owls, from Sangster et al., 2013.

In March, several new specimens of Mesozoic avialans were described that suggested foot feathers were ubiquitous among feathered dinosaurs. Self control was observed in Goffin's cockatoos. New Jeholornis and enantiornithine specimens appeared to preserve single functional ovaries (rather than two ovaries as was probably present in non-avialan maniraptors). Circadian rhythm was found to determine the timing of crowing in roosters. The evolution of shorter wings in cliff swallows as an adaptation for avoiding traffic was documented. The genomes of peregrine and saker falcons were sequenced. A unique yellow pigment was described in penguins. The painted vulture, long thought to have originated from a bungled description of the king vulture, was argued to have represented a distinct species. Bird tracks once intriguingly thought to have hailed from the Triassic were redated as being Eocene in age. Previous methods of color reconstruction from fossil feathers was questioned. A review of the history of African penguins was published. Cranes were suggested to dance not just in courtship, but also in play. New studies came out on the structure of mixed-species corvid flocks, modern bird phylogeny, the evolution of avian sex roles, the water vapor conductance of Troodon eggs, a new specimen of the large unenlagiine Austroraptor, melanin concentration gradients in fossil feathers, and thermoregulation in emperor penguins. Newly-named maniraptors included the Eocene ciconiiform Vadaravis brownae and the parrot-beaked Oligocene mousebird Oligocolius psittacocephalon.

New specimen of Sapeornis showing hind limb feathers, from Zheng et al, 2013.

In April, juvenile pied babblers were reported to put themselves at risk in order to elicit food from their parents. The dromaeosaurid Microraptor was found to have eaten fish. More research on the molecular basis and taphonomy of feather colors was published. A new enantiornithine nesting colony from Argentina, a juvenile specimen of the Mesozoic avialan Sapeornis, and a troodont tooth from India were described. New studies came out on the evolution of sexual dimorphism in moa, pneumaticity in charadriiforms and pelecaniforms, the clapper/king rail complex, the evolution of avian leg posture, and the dissociation of body and limb size in avialans. Newly-named maniraptors included the dark-feathered Eocene stem apodiform Eocypselus rowei and the oviraptorosaurs Ganzhousaurus nankangensis, Leptorhynchos gaddisi, and Leptorhynchos elegans, the last formerly a species of Chirostenotes.

Holotype of Eocypselus rowei, from Ksepka et al., 2013.

In May, vocal cooperation in little spotted kiwis was documented. The carrying of feathers to nests by male house sparrows was suggested to be a sexually selected trait. The genome of the scarlet macaw was sequenced. Individual personality in common waxbills was found to be associated with ecology. The correlation between clutch size and parental care style, previously used to infer reproductive behavior in Mesozoic maniraptors, was questioned. Support for the trade-off between efficient flying and wing-propelled diving was found. New studies came out on the evolution of the aerodynamic tail of modern birds, skeletal kinematics during WAIR, the function of the wing knob in the Rodrigues solitaire, the phylogeography of the northern fulmar, and problem-solving abilities in pigeons. Newly-named maniraptors included the oviraptorosaur Wulatelong gobiensis, the Oligocene passerine Resoviaornis jamrozi, the therizinosaur Jianchangosaurus yixianensis, the basal paravian Aurornis xui (found to be the oldest known avialan in its description), and the Cretaceous euornithine Yanornis guozhangi.

Holotype of Aurornis xui, from Godefroit et al., 2013.

In June, the evolutionary loss of phalluses in birds was investigated. Record migration distances were documented in Arctic terns. The feather colors of Archaeopteryx were described in more detail than before, finding that only the leading edges of the feathers were dark. Social learning was found in superb fairy wrens. A comprehensive overview of Pleistocene-Holocene bird remains from Liang Bua was published. Cerebellar floccular fossa size was found to be a poor proxy for flying ability in birds. New studies came out on scaling effects on neognath limb proportions and the airspeed of migrating birds. Newly-named maniraptors included the Paleocene avialan Qianshanornis rapax (seemingly with a retractable second toe), the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), the São Miguel scops owl (Otus frutuosoi), the western striolated puffbird (Nystalus obamai), the Xingu woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes retentus), the Inambari woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes fatimalimae), the Tupana scythebill (Campylorhamphus gyldenstolpei), the Tapajós scythebill (Campylorhamphus cardosoi), the Roosevelt stipple-throated antwren (Epinecrophylla dentei), the bamboo antwren (Myrmotherula oreni), the predicted antwren (Herpsilochmus praedictus), the Aripuana antwren (Herpsilochmus stotzi), the Manicore warbling antbird (Hypocnemis rondoni), the Chico's tyrannulet (Zimmerius chicomendesi), the acre tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus cohnhafti), the Sucunduri yellow-margined flycatcher (Tolmomyias sucunduri), the Inambari gnatcatcher (Polioptila attenboroughi), and the Campina jay (Cyanocorax hafferi).

Phylogeny of neornithines showing the phylogenetic distribution of phalluses, from Herrera et al., 2013.

In July, sequential problem solving and concept of object permanence were reported in Goffin's cockatoos. The previous claim of fossilized ovaries in several Mesozoic avialan specimens was disputed. The genome of the ground tit was sequenced. Navigation by olfactory cues was found in Cory's shearwaters. Eye-tracking technology allowed the study of selective attention in peahens during courtship. The origin of iridescence in the plumage of the African emerald cuckoo was established. New studies came out on the social structure of California condors, navigation in pigeons, the phylogeny of ibises, the evolution of the avian brain, mating success in zebra finches, and sexual selection on the brain size of charadriiforms. Newly-named maniraptors included the Cretaceous avialan Xinghaiornis lini and the Junin tapaculo (Scytalopus gettyae).

Cory's shearwater, photographed by TomAllmendinger, licensed.

In August, male Japanese quail were found to produce a foamy secretion that increases reproductive success. The similarity of greater honeyguide eggs to those of their hosts was shown to result from intraspecific rather than interspecific competition. Birds were found to adjust their flight initiation distance based on local road speed limits. Social learning in whooping cranes was described. New studies came out on limb evolution rates in avialans and other dinosaurs, the response of song sparrows to climate change, the evolutionary loss of digits in birds and other archosaurs, and ostrich neck flexibility (with implications for studies of extinct animals such as sauropods). Newly-named maniraptors included the oviraptorosaur Jiangxisaurus ganzhouensis and the fish-eating Cretaceous avialan Piscivoravis lii.

Experimental flexibility of ostrich necks when intervertebral space is (left) and isn't (right) taken into account, from Cobley et al., 2013.

In September, birds were confirmed to likely lack the anti-inflammatory protein tristetraprolin. The role of the trachea in thermoregulation in birds (with implications for sauropods) was modeled. Large-brained birds were found to have lower stress hormone levels. Predation on sika deer by a golden eagle was observed for the first time. The loss of syntax in island-dwelling chaffinch populations were documented. The coprolites of moa were studied to reconstruct the lost herbivore community of New Zealand. New studies came out on the aerodynamics of the dromaeosaurid Microraptor, strategies for successful brood parasitism in cuckoo finches, and the phylogenetic position of Yixianosaurus. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithine Zhouornis hani.

Golden eagle attacking juvenile sika deer, from Kerley and Slaght, 2013.

In October, infidelity in red-backed fairy wrens was suggested to prevent speciation between two distinct morphs. Distinction between the Eocene penguins Palaeeudyptes gunnari and Palaeeudyptes klekowskii was quantified statistically. Examination of several Jeholornis specimens found what appeared to be a second feather display structure at the base of their tail, sparking a fair amount of online discussion on how to interpret this find. Alpine swifts were observed flying nonstop for 200 days, confirming that at least some swifts spend a large portion of their lives without landing. Mimicry of raptors was found to be common among cuckoos. A Jerdon's courser egg (previously unknown) was discovered in a museum collection. An unnamed Oligocene upupiform and the oldest known bird footprints (from the Early Cretaceous of Australia) were described. New studies came out on the brain morphology of plotopterids, the problem-solving abilities of parrots, duet integration in happy wrens, and the halluces of Eocene penguins. Newly-named maniraptors included the large, likely flightless Miocene anseriform Garganornis ballmanni and the Cretaceous avialans Yumenornis huangi, Changmaornis houi, and Jiuquanornis niui. Leptorhynchos gaddisi was deemed the type species of its genus, as the original description had neglected to assign one.

Alpine swift, photographed by Birdwatching Barcelona, licensed.

In November, changes in timing of bird migrations were to result from changes between generations rather than individuals. The benefits of same-sex pairing for Laysan albatrosses was established. The presence of phorusrhacids in Europe was reevaluated. New studies came out on the phylogenetic position of Juncitarsus, the structure and growth of Pelagornis pseudoteeth, the mass estimation of flying birds, and the colonization of Tasmania by the wedge-tailed eagle. Newly-named maniraptors included the dromaeosaurid Acheroraptor temertyorum and the oviraptorosaur Nankangia jiangxiensis. Ajancingenia was coined as a replacement name for for the long-preoccupied oviraptorosaur genus "Ingenia", but there is much controversy about the ethics of the paper in which this was done.

Laysan albatross with young, public domain.

In December, hummingbirds were found to metabolize glucose and fructose equally, unlike typical vertebrates. Behavioral lateralization in budgerigars was shown to vary according to task rather than handedness being present in individuals. A common buzzard was digitally dissected. In a bit of good conservation news, the Moluccan woodcock was discovered to likely be less threatened than expected. In a bit of more ominous conservation news, maladaptive behavior spread by conservation efforts was reported in Chatham Island black robins. (Fortunately, this was discovered in time and said behavior is no longer widespread.) A number of papers were published on the relationship between brood parasites and their hosts; for instance, nest sanitation was suggested as the evolutionary basis for ejection of brood parasite eggs in Eurasian tree sparrows. Great spotted cuckoo fledglings were found to be disadvantaged when reared by and alongside magpies. Evidence for cooperative breeding in birds being a defense against brood parasitism was documented. New studies came out on the function and evolution of beaks in therizinosaurs and other theropods, the evolution of limb robustness in moa, the energetics of courtship in golden-collared manakins, the feeding habits of red-throated caracaras, the phylogenetic position of the Cretaceous euornithine Ambiortus, and convergent evolution of hemoglobin function in high altitude hummingbirds. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithine and longtime nomen nudum Gobipipus reshetovi (known only from embryos), the Eocene stem galliform Chambiortyx cristata, the Miocene roller Miocoracias chenevali, the Miocene barn owl Miotyto montispetrosi, the Pliocene rail Pastushkinia zazhigini (formerly a species of Crex), the Oligocene or Miocene stone curlew Wilaru tedfordi, and the Miocene kiwi Proapteryx micromeros. A correction was issued for the coining of Ajancingenia to acknowledge the use of data compiled by Mickey Mortimer on the Theropod Database, but still does not adequately address many of the other issues with the original paper.

Results of finite element analysis on the skull of Erlikosaurus with comparison between different hypothetical beak extents, from Lautenschlager et al., 2013.

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