Fossil plotopterid seabirds from the eo-oligocene of the Olympic Peninsula (Washington state, USA): Descriptions and functional morphology

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Abstract

The plotopterids (Aves, Plotopteridae) were a group of extinct wing-propelled marine birds that are known from Paleogene-aged sediments (Eocene to Miocene), mostly around the Pacific Rim (especially Japan and the northwest coast of North America). While these birds exhibit a strikingly similar wing morphology to penguins (Spheniscidae), they also share derived characters with pelecaniform birds that are absent in penguins and exhibit apparently superficial similarities with auks (Alcidae: Charadriiformes). Despite quite an abundant fossil record, these birds have been little studied, and in particular their functional morphology remains little understood. Here we present osteological overviews of specimens from the northwest coast of Washington state (USA). We give an amended diagnosis for the well-represented North American genus, Tonsala Olson, 1980, describe a new large species, and examine the functional morphology of plotopterids showing that the ratio of humeral strength to femoral strength is quite low in one well-represented species Tonsala buchanani sp.nov., relative to both extant penguins and alcids. While the femoral strength of Tonsala buchanani is 'penguin-grade', its humeral strength is more 'alcid-grade'. These results have implications for understanding the mode-of-locomotion of these extinct marine birds. Although not related to Spheniscidae, our descriptions and functional results suggest that Tonsala buchanani sustained similar loads in walking, but slightly lower humeral loads during swimming, than a modern penguin. This suggests a swimming mode that is more similar to living alcids, than to the highly-specialised locomotor strategy of living and fossil penguins. © 2011 Dyke et al.

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Dyke, G. J., Wang, X., & Habib, M. B. (2011). Fossil plotopterid seabirds from the eo-oligocene of the Olympic Peninsula (Washington state, USA): Descriptions and functional morphology. PLoS ONE, 6(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025672

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