Feduccia's arguments were good, a little more than a decade ago. There wasn't anything like teh fossil evidence that there is now regarding
feathered dinosaurs and the origins of birds. Lots of people, like Larry Martin and others, also agreed with feduccia's basic idea; that birds
evolved from an arboreal archosaur. One of the best lines of reasoning was that dinosaurs simply weren't tree dwellers, the 'ground up' hypothesis
had, and still has, lots of problems. I think feduccia was looking to these things called 'drepanosaurs' as a very
primitive bird ancestor
-or- something that at least showed some bird like adaptations and also shows that the group was highly adapted to tree living.
and when longisquama
was found, it seemed to support the 'arboreal archosaurs develop flight by gliding' theory.
I beleive that the head and other skeletal features were considered to be nicely approaching avians, but obviously the big issue there are those
incredible integumentary structures.
But then the evidence really started tilting the other way. Cladistics really was showing that birds are a group that come out of dinosaurs,
cladistics being a 'new' (actually it was espoused by a guy named Hennig in germany in the 60's i think, but, being that his books were in german,
it took a long time to get into the US and into paleontology)and powerful way of analyzing characteristics and determining relationships.
Basically what these sorts of studies confirmed was that you'd need some really unreasonable and unlikely changes to occur to derive birds from these
and other arboreal dinosaurs and that the changes that would have to occur in small theropod dinosaurs would be reasonable and likely, given the
distribution of characteristics in the specimins. Even if you posited that there were lots of unknown forms, you still have a more 'logical' theory
with the small theropod theory. A problem with this was that the ground up hypothesis for the origin of flight, with running dinosaurs becoming
birds, just wasn't looking reasonable, and it was extremely difficult to see how feathers could arise in small running dinosaurs as an adaptation;
what purpose could they serve, at least in arboreal archosaurs any 'proto-feather' will help gliding, or even slow a fall.
So the focus was on how to explain the origin of feathers and 'the flight stroke' with small running dinosaurs. The
recently deceased John Ostrom
a man who had managed to find a new specimin of archaeopteryx languishing in storage in a european musuem, theorized that feathers could work sort of
like a 'net' to surround and scoop in flying insects that these theropods would eat. Others noted that the grasping arms of deinonychosaurs
(discovered by John Ostrom in fact) could make a wing-beat like motion when reaching for larger prey. Others thought that wings would give a little
boost when chasing prey, or aid in jumping after flying insects and that this lead to flight.
But I think that most of these ideas were simply shown to be non-feasable. If you are running, no proto-wing is going to help you move faster, and if
anything the moment you leave the ground you're going to have a huge drop in speed, and the energetics of flapping flight vs simply running faster
after insects was poor too.
So there was this one set of information, the cladistic information (the phylogenies, the relations) that was saying, they came from theropods. But
the other data seemed to say that it simply couldn't work.
Feduccia also noted that things like archaeopteryx, considered at this time a non-dinosaur and a 'basal bird', had adaptations for perching and tree
climbing, and nothing of the sort was seen in small dinosaurs, whereas other archosaurs had such adapatations.
Then the case was simply blown wide open with the rapid and extraordinary discoveries of what can only be described as feathered dinosaurs in china,
with everything from very primitive 'shaft' like protofeathers, to increasingly complex symmetric feathers (iow non-flight), and even finally
asymmetric flight feathers. This simply showed that birds had evolved from dinosaurs. Whats more, they had adaptations for living in trees, so now
we have feathered arboreal small theropod dinosaurs. And, as a sort of scientific icing on the cake, Plum's research (in the post above) showed that
modern bird feathers can be progressively 'primitivised' (or at least mutated) into simpler and simpler stages, and these feather evolutionary
stages correspond very well to what we actually see in the proto-feathered-to-fully-feathered specimins, even in their phylogenetic order.
This has lead to some BAND people ultimately rejecting (or at least not stumping as much for) the BAND idea, like (I think) Larry Martin. Others,
actually really mostly Feduccia, for whatever reason, have adamantly clung to the arboreal archosaur idea, despite the more powerful logic of
cladistics, and despite the incredible fossil evidence. Feduccia's ideas reach into the realm of non-science because they reject logic, cladistics is
a logical analysis of the data, and their ideas are simply rejected because, if nothing else, of the ludicrously high amounts of 'convergence' that
you'd have to have, with small dinosaurs being 'convergent' upon these other 'arboreal archosaur' birds, despite living in different environments
even. His ideas fail 'occam's razor', big time, to say the least. His ideas aren't a problem for evolution, except insofar as they are simply
more or less
There is another faction tho, called ABSuRDists, Anything But Small Running Dinosaurs, who posit all sorts of things. Another line in this research is
that of Gregory S Paul, who basically postulated that some of the feathered dinosaurs that we see now aren't actually 'evolving into birds', but
rather that flight had evolved in dinosaurs, and that these things are 'secondarily flightless', like emus and the ostrich (and then I'd think that
others retained flight and evolved more birdy features, with some populations occasionally loosing flight and becoming ground birds along the way
ER, yeah, that was longer than I had intended.
Basically Feduccia is getting looked at cross eyed because his conlusions are simply illogical and have no scientific rationale anymore. This recent
paper seems to confirm that. Soliar had published a previous paper on the whole 'they're not feathers, they're collagen' bit, and, like I said,
it was pretty baseless, if nothing else microraptor and the like have flight feathers, you can't consider it collagen. So it seems like Feduccia is
publishing another paper simply by teaming up with Soliar.
There's lots of other controversies in the situation, like whether or not Wagner is correct about the digit homology, and what I like to call
'Attack of the Chimeras', with the fraudulent Archaeoraptor, the non-fraudulent tho very very controversial Protavis, and even the somewhat
controversial and oft ignored Rahonavis.
Oh one last thing, I'll just mention it tho. At the Montana Meeting of the SVP a few years ago, bird researcher Ken Dial demonstrated that very
young developmentally birds (young developmental stages imply early phylogentic stages, kinda like Haeckle used to rant about), which can't fly and
have poorly developed wings, will, in order to escape predators if they find themselves on the ground, scurry up tall trees, running, and flapping
their little wings in such a way that forces are created that help hold them to the tree trunk, allowing them to run
straight up a 90 degree
incline, even inclines at more than 90 degrees (thats right, approaching being upside down). That would be a tremendous evolutionary advantage to
small ground dwelling adult dinosaurs, and might explain how these arboreal dinosaurs first started getting into the trees. The theory is called
, wing assisted incline running.
Feduccia's ideas don't really have any effect on evolutionary theory or the creationism issue. Lots of creationists seem to take any disagreement
amoung scientists to mean that science is no good, because the scientists can't agree. *shrug*
OK I'll shut up now!