Zhonghe Zhou's research while affiliated with Chinese Academy of Sciences and other places

Publications (213)

Article
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The Cretaceous is a critical time interval that encompasses explosive diversifications of terrestrial vertebrates, particularly the period when the earliest-branching birds, after divergence from their theropod ancestors, evolved the characteristic avian Bauplan that led eventually to their global radiation. This early phylogenetic diversity is ove...
Article
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The independent movements and flexibility of various parts of the skull, called cranial kinesis, are an evolutionary innovation that is found in living vertebrates only in some squamates and crown birds and is considered to be a major factor underpinning much of the enormous phenotypic and ecological diversity of living birds, the most diverse grou...
Article
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Jeholornis is a representative of the earliest-diverging bird lineages, providing important evidence of anatomical transitions involved in bird origins. Although ~100 specimens have been reported, its cranial morphology remains poorly documented owing to poor two-dimensional preservation, limiting our understanding of the morphology and ecology of...
Article
In Liaoning Province, Northeastern China, the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota records significant evolution and radiation of fauna in terms of diversity, abundance and complexity. The alluvial-to-fluvial Lujiatun and lacustrine Jianshangou beds of the lower Yixian Formation yield exceptionally well-preserved three-dimensional and articulated dinosaur...
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The Early Cretaceous diversification of birds was a major event in the history of terrestrial ecosystems, occurring during the earliest phase of the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, long before the origin of the bird crown-group. Frugivorous birds play an important role in seed dispersal today. However, evidence of fruit consumption in early bird...
Preprint
The independent movements and flexibility of various parts of the skull, called cranial kinesis, is an evolutionary innovation that is found in living vertebrates only in some squamates and crown birds, and considered to be a major factor underpinning much of the enormous phenotypic and ecological diversity of living birds, the most diverse group o...
Article
Significance Owls, with their largely nocturnal habits, contrast strikingly with the vast majority of diurnal birds. A new spectacular late Miocene owl skeleton from China unexpectedly preserves the oldest evidence for daytime behavior in owls. The extinct owl is a member of the clade Surniini, which contains most living diurnal owl species. Analys...
Preprint
Full-text available
The Early Cretaceous diversification of birds was a major event in the history of terrestrial ecosystems, occurring during the earliest phase of the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution. Frugivorous birds play an important role in seed dispersal today, and may have done so since their origins. However, evidence of this has been lacking. Jeholornis is...
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The globally distributed extinct clade Enantiornithes comprises the most diverse early radiation of birds in the Mesozoic with species exhibiting a wide range of body sizes, morphologies, and ecologies. The fossil of a new enantiornithine bird, Brevirostruavis macrohyoideus gen. et sp. nov., from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation in Liaoning...
Article
The Valanginian and Hauterivian stages of the Early Cretaceous are an important time interval for the co-evolution of key vertebrate taxa and flowering angiosperm, as well as for the diversification of dinosaurs and early birds on continents. Among these, the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota in northern China provides the most valuable fossil evidence....
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Previous findings on dinosaur cartilage material from the Late Cretaceous of Montana suggested that cartilage is a vertebrate tissue with unique characteristics that favor nuclear preservation. Here, we analyze additional dinosaur cartilage in Caudipteryx (STM4-3) from the Early Cretaceous Jehol biota of Northeast China. The cartilage fragment is h...
Article
Enantiornithes are the most successful group of Mesozoic birds, arguably representing the first global avian radiation,1, 2, 3, 4 and commonly resolved as the sister to the Ornithuromorpha, the clade within which all living birds are nested.1,3 The wealth of fossils makes it feasible to comparatively test evolutionary hypotheses about the pattern a...
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Significance The Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota is a terrestrial lagerstätte that produces exquisitely preserved fossils that have furnished enormous evidence on the origins and early evolution of diverse vertebrate groups. On the basis of the latest paleontological and geochronologic evidence, we discuss the three stages of the biota, and suggest th...
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Calcified cartilage is a vertebrate tissue that has unique characteristics, such as a high percentage of calcification, avascularity and cells with apparently delayed autolytic processes after death. All of these factors suggest that fossilized cartilage may be favorable to exceptional cellular preservation, but little is known about chondrocyte fo...
Data
Supplementary Information for "Cretaceous bird with dinosaur skull sheds light on avian cranial evolution"
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The transformation of the bird skull from an ancestral akinetic, heavy, and toothed dino-saurian morphology to a highly derived, lightweight, edentulous, and kinetic skull is an innovation as significant as powered flight and feathers. Our understanding of evolutionary assembly of the modern form and function of avian cranium has been impeded by th...
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As key components of the tetrapod pectoral girdle, the scapula and coracoid have played a significant role in the evolution of forelimb locomotion among terrestrial vertebrates. The transition from a rigid fused scapulocoracoid in ancestral non-avian theropods to a presumably more flexible separated scapula-coracoid in early birds is considered to...
Article
The origin of birds from non-avian theropod dinosaurs is one of the greatest transitions in evolution. Shortly after diverging from other theropods in the Late Jurassic, Mesozoic birds diversified into two major clades—the Enantiornithes and Ornithuromorpha—acquiring many features previously considered unique to the crown group along the way. Here,...
Article
Yanornithidae is an Early Cretaceous ornithuromorph clade that preserves the oldest direct evidence indicative of a piscivorous diet in avian evolution. The family hitherto contained only a single genus Yanornis and two putative species. The yanornithids are readily distinguishable from other Mesozoic avians in having a long rostrum packed with num...
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We describe a new enantiornithine specimen from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of the Jehol Biota, northeastern China, which can be assigned to the species Piscivorenantiornis inusitatus. The new specimen confirms the presence of the unusual articulation of the cervical vertebrae that characterizes P. inusitatus. The disarticulated bony e...
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The keratinous beak is inferred to have evolved multiple times in the Archosauria and in Aves. Unfortunately, this feature rarely preserves in the fossil record. Here we examine a collection of 603 specimens belonging to the Confuciusornithiformes, a clade of edentulous basal avians, only two of which preserve visible traces of the rhamphotheca. Pr...
Article
Many specimens of the basal bird Jeholornis from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of northeast China include one or two distinctive paddle-shaped skeletal elements preserved in the thoracic region. These ossifications have generally been identified as lateral trabeculae, paired processes of the sternum that are common within the derived avian clade...
Article
Protopteryx fengningensis is from the 130.7 Ma Huajiying Formation making it one of the oldest known enantiornithines. Contributing to its significance, this taxon is also commonly resolved as the basal-most enantiornithine in phylogenetic analyses. Protopteryx preserves several unusual morphologies that are otherwise absent in the Enantiornithes b...
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The Lower Cretaceous Huajiying Formation of the Sichakou Basin in northern Hebei Province, northern China contains key vertebrate taxa of the early Jehol Biota, e.g., Protopteryx fengningensis , Archaeornithura meemannae , Peipiaosteus fengningensis , and Eoconfuciusornis zhengi . This formation arguably documents the second-oldest bird-bearing hor...
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Background: Tooth morphology within theropod dinosaurs has been extensively investigated and shows high disparity throughout the Cretaceous. Changes or diversification in feeding ecology, i.e., adoption of an herbivorous diet (e.g., granivorous), is proposed as a major driver of tooth evolution in Paraves (e.g., Microraptor, troodontids and aviala...
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The Jehol Biota is an Early Cretaceous terrestrial fossil assemblage of paramount significance, and its core distribution areas are western Liaoning, northern Hebei, and southeastern Inner Mongolia. Despite with a research history of more than 150 years, it started yielding important fossils until early 1990s, which include feathered dinosaurs, ear...
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The partial skeleton of a new extinct taxon, Linxiavis inaquosus, from the Liushu Formation (6–9 Ma) at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in Gansu Province, China is the most substantial known fossil record of sandgrouse (Pteroclidae). While adding to the rapidly growing known Liushu avian fauna of vultures, falcons, pheasants, and ostrich, this new...
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The Yanliao Biota is notable for producing rare and well-preserved Jurassic vertebrate fossils. Many discoveries in the Bawanggou section, northern Hebei Province have greatly enhanced our knowledge of important vertebrate fossils from the Yanliao Biota, including an arboreal euharamiyidan mammal, maniraptoran theropods, salamanders and pterosaurs....
Article
The avian predentary is a small skeletal structure located rostral to the paired dentaries found only in Mesozoic ornithuromorphs. The evolution and function of this enigmatic element is unknown. Skeletal tissues forming the predentary and the lower jaws in the basal ornithuromorph Yanornis martini are identified using computed-tomography, scanning...
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The Early Cretaceous basal birds were known largely from just two-dimensionally preserved specimens from north-eastern China (Jehol Biota), which has hindered our understanding of the early evolution of birds. Here, we present a three-dimensionally-preserved skeleton (FPDM-V-9769) of a basal bird from the Early Cretaceous of Fukui, central Japan. U...
Article
The earliest record of the Ornithuromorpha, which includes crown birds, is currently known from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota in north-eastern China. Here we describe a new ornithuromorph bird, Mengciusornis dentatus gen. et sp. nov., from the Jiufotang Formation of this biota. Mengciusornis preserves a suite of morphological features exclusivel...
Article
The avian digestive system, like other aspects of avian biology, is highly modified relative to other reptiles. Together these modifications have imparted the great success of Neornithes, the most diverse clade of amniotes alive today. It is important to understand when and how aspects of the modern avian digestive system evolved among neornithine...
Article
Most living birds exhibit cranial kinesis—movement between the rostrum and braincase—in which force is transferred through the palatal and jugal bars. The palate alone distinguishes the Paleognathae from the Neognathae, with cranial kinesis more developed in neognaths. Most previous palatal studies were based on 2D data and rarely incorporated data...
Article
Direct indicators of diet and predator-prey relationships are exceedingly rare in the fossil record [1, 2]. However, it is through such traces that we can best understand trophic interactions in ancient ecosystems [3], confirm dietary inferences derived from skeletal morphologies [4], and clarify behavioral and ecological interpretations [5]. Here,...
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Change history: In this Letter, it should have been acknowledged that the silhouettes of Scansoriopterygidae in Fig. 3a were modified from a sketch by Jaime Headden. The original Letter has been corrected online.
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Powered flight evolved independently in vertebrates in the pterosaurs, birds and bats, each of which has a different configuration of the bony elements and epidermal structures that form the wings1,2. Whereas the early fossil records of pterosaurs and bats are sparse, mounting evidence (primarily from China) of feathered non-avian dinosaurs and ste...
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Understanding non-crown dinosaur reproduction is hindered by a paucity of directly associated adults with reproductive traces. Here we describe a new enantiornithine, Avimaia schweitzerae gen. et sp. nov., from the Lower Cretaceous Xiagou Formation with an unlaid egg two-dimensionally preserved within the abdominothoracic cavity. Ground-sections re...
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During the dinosaur–bird transition, feathers of bird ancestors must have been molecularly modified to become biomechanically suitable for flight. We report molecular moieties in fossil feathers that shed light on that transition. Pennaceous feathers attached to the right forelimb of the Jurassic dinosaur Anchiornis were composed of both feather β-...
Article
We report a new small enantiornithine, Shangyang graciles gen. et sp. nov., based on a nearly complete and articulated skeleton from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning Province, north-eastern China. Shangyang has premaxillae that are completely fused rostrally as well as along the frontal processes, a previously unrecognized condi...
Article
Confuciusornithidae is the clade of Early Cretaceous birds most rich in materials and plays a central role in our understanding of the evolution of avian horny beaks and pygostyles. A handful of specimens demonstrate that this avian group is distinguishable from other basal birds by their robust, toothless upper and lower jaws, a fused scapulocorac...
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Medullary bone is an ephemeral type of bone tissue, today found only in sexually mature female birds, that provides a calcium reservoir for eggshell formation. The presence of medullary bone-like tissues in extant birds, pterosaurs, and dinosaurs distantly related to birds shows that caution must be exercised before concluding that fossils bear med...
Article
Significance Archaeorhynchus spathula is a basal member of the Ornithuromorpha, the lineage that includes neornithines. Although this is the fifth reported specimen, unlike the others it preserves significant soft tissue, revealing a tail morphology previously unknown in Mesozoic birds and an exceptional occurrence of fossilized lung tissue. This i...
Article
Significance We report the second most basal clade of the short-tailed birds (Pygostylia) from the Early Cretaceous. The new family Jinguofortisidae exhibits a mosaic assembly of plesiomorphic nonavian theropod characteristics, particularly of the fused scapulocoracoid and more derived flight-related features, further increasing the known ecomorpho...
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The tongue, with fleshy, muscular, and bony components, is an innovation of the earliest land-dwelling vertebrates with key functions in both feeding and respiration. Here, we bring together evidence from preserved hyoid elements from dinosaurs and outgroup archosaurs, including pterosaurs, with enhanced contrast x-ray computed tomography data from...
Data
Parsimony-based ancestral state reconstruction of hyoid features summarized in Fig 3 and the supplemental tables. Characters numbers correspond to states described in Supplemental Data Files 1, 2: the character descriptions and matrix. (JPG)
Data
Avialan skulls with associated hyoid elements preserved. a, Confuciusornis sanctus (IVPP 13175); b, Confuciusornis sp. (STM 13–6); c, Rapaxavis pani (DNHM D2522); d, Sulcavis geeorum (BMNH ph 000805); e, Longusunguis kurochkini (IVPP V17864); f, Yanornis martini (IVPP V12558); g and h, photograph and line drawing of Hongshanornis sp. (STM 7–56). Th...
Data
Character list used to reconstruct the major transitions of hyolingual evolution with Archosaria. (DOCX)
Data
Data matrix (character list and coding). (DOCX)
Data
Homologous muscles proposed across reptilians and examined in this project. Muscles experiencing major shifts, or considered as neomorphs of birds, are indicated in bold face; dash lines indicate it is not present. All proposed homologies were reviewed from previous studies and new proposed homologies are indicated with an asterisk (*). (DOCX)
Data
Major morphological evolution of bony hyoid traits in bird-line archosaurs with new data obtained from Avialae, Palaeognathae, and Neognathae. The hyoid elements are labeled as abbreviation, pg-paraglossal, bh-basihyal, cb-ceratobranchial, ep-epibranchial. Bony hyoid characters include: (1) origin of the narrow, arrow-shaped basihyal (not always mi...
Data
Skulls of basal archosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs with associated hyoids evaluated. a, Euparkeria capensis (SAM 5867); b, Jeholosaurus shangyuanensis (IVPP V12530); c, Gongbusaurus wucaiwanensis. (IVPP 14559); d, Massospondylus carinatus (cast, BP/1/4934); e, Syntarsus kayentakatae (MNA V2623); f, Similicaudipteryx yixianensis (STM22-6); g, Sinosa...
Data
Material of extinct taxa examined. Published specimens are indicated with an associated reference. (DOCX)
Article
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The Confuciusornithiformes is a basal clade of Early Cretaceous birds that includes the oldest and most basal birds with a toothless beak and an abbreviated bony tail. Over the last two decades, thousands of specimens have been collected, more than for any other group of Mesozoic birds or non-avian dinosaurs. Ten species separated into four genera...
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Modifications to the upper vocal tract involving hyper-elongated tracheae have evolved many times within crown birds, and their evolution has been linked to a ‘size exaggeration’ hypothesis in acoustic signaling and communication, whereby smaller-sized birds can produce louder sounds. A fossil skeleton of a new extinct species of wildfowl (Gallifor...
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Feathers are remarkable evolutionary innovations that are associated with complex adaptations of the skin in modern birds. Fossilised feathers in non-avian dinosaurs and basal birds provide insights into feather evolution, but how associated integumentary adaptations evolved is unclear. Here we report the discovery of fossil skin, preserved with re...
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STM35-3 from the Yixian Formation is the only Early Cretaceous ornithuromorph preserving direct evidence of granivory. The crop contains numerous seeds and the preservation of gastroliths presumably within the ventriculus indicates this diet was paired with the presence of a gastric mill as in living granivorous birds. STM35-3 was originally referr...
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Even more like birds Ecological convergence between pterosaurs and birds is often invoked, but to what degree the two groups share behavior is debated. Wang et al. describe a site with more than 100 fossilized pterosaur eggs that reveals that hatchling pterosaurs were likely not as precocial as previously thought (see the Perspective by Deeming). F...
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Significance We report an Early Cretaceous bird from 120 My ago that has a completely fused carpometacarpus and pelvis, pushing back the date for these avian traits by over 40 My. We suggest that this taxon grew more rapidly than other basal birds, but the degree of bone fusion is not causally linked with growth pattern in primitive birds. We hypot...
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In order to determine the incubation temperature of eggs laid by non-avian dinosaurs, we analysed the oxygen isotope compositions of both eggshell carbonate (δ¹⁸Oc) and embryo bone phosphate (δ¹⁸Op) from seven oviraptorosaur eggs with preserved in ovo embryo bones. These eggs come from the Upper Cretaceous Nanxiong Formation of Jiangxi Province, Ch...