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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Investigating the role of the hindlimb in the evolution of avian flight

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Few capabilities are more exciting to us than an animal’s ability to fly. With over twice as many species as mammals, birds represent the largest group of tetrapod vertebrate, and their mastery of the air is absolute! But how do they get off the ground, and indeed how did the ancestor of birds endow their descendants with this remarkable mode of locomotion. This project seeks to offer an answer to that question.

Birds flight capability is fascinating to us.  However how it evolved is open to debate. It is given as one of 2 options, the ground ‘up’, or, trees ‘down’, with little or no explanation of any evolutionary pressure for getting into the air. 

Birds evolved for theropod dinosaurs, with their fuzzy feather integument. This project seeks to see if avian flight could have evolved from a jump, by a small theropod to evade predation. The jumping take-off which we see in almost all birds, in one form or another, may be an evolutionary response to predator avoidance.

Principal Supervisor: Prof Markus O. Heller
Co-supervisors: Dr Neil J. Gostling (FELS); Dr Colin Palmer (University of Bristol)
PGR student: Mr Erik Meilak

Funding provider: Spitfire DTP
Funding dates: October 2017- December 2021

Related research groups

Ecology and Evolution
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