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Scientists Find Missing Link in Bird Evolution 236

BlueCup writes "Dozens of fossils of an ancient loon-like creature that some say is the missing link in bird evolution have been discovered in northwest China. The remains of 40 of the nearly modern amphibious birds, so well-preserved that some even have their feathers, were found in Gansu province, researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science. Previously only a single leg of the creature, known as Gansus yumenensis, had been found."
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Scientists Find Missing Link in Bird Evolution

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  • by Jerk City Troll ( 661616 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:18PM (#15553170) Homepage

    They were planted there by the Flying Spaghetti Monster to test the convictions of the faithful!

    • Just like ducks today are here ... to scourge us! Really, I think the fossilized ducks died and sank. There is no evolutionary link stated in the story even though they use the term. Very interesting. I'm baffled.
      • Evolutionary Link (Score:3, Informative)

        by yankpop ( 931224 )

        Evolutionary links are inferred from biological data. With living species this is done primarily with DNA, but for fossils you have to use morphological information. So the taxonomists would line up all the specimens they have and figure out morphological connections among them. You might find that one group of fossils all have a certain bone structure, so they get grouped together while another group with different bone structure is interpreted as being a different lineage. You might be lucky enough to fin

    • ...these fossils are at least an order of magnitude too old to have such "modern" features.

      GSM should take a little more care with its duckies.
  • by Eideewt ( 603267 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:19PM (#15553176)
    Wonderful. They may have "found the missing link" but now there are two missing links to take its place!
    • by nacturation ( 646836 ) <> on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:59PM (#15553317) Journal
      Indeed. It's amazing how closely the fundies arguments resemble Zeno's paradox. []
      • Re:Missing Link, eh? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yes, but it's an argument scientists and science journalists asked for when they decided to use terms like "missing link". Sometimes when you dumb down science to reach a larger audience, you actually harm the understanding of science more than you help it.

        Case in point: Some science journalist invents the "missing link" label, and the readers now believe that "transitional species" were not well-adapted specimens for their time, but were merely a waystation from one well-adapted species to another. This
        • Not sure if "scientists" bare any of the responsibility. I somehow doubt the actual papers said 'missing link' in them at all. It's the journalists trying to dumb it down enough that the general public can understand.
          • You're assuming the journalists themselves are somehow more intelligent or knowledgeable than their target audience. That would be a very, very mistaken assumption.

        • Yes, but it's an argument scientists and science journalists asked for when they decided to use terms like "missing link".

          The phrase is NOT USED AT ALL in TFA. The Slashdot submitter presumably added it to spice it up and bring out the usual flame war. Scientists haven't used the term for decades. Blame the creationists and tabliod journalists for its currency.

      • damn it. i followed your link thinking there was proof to what the scientologists believe.
    • Re:Missing Link, eh? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Zaatxe ( 939368 )
      The problem with the "missing link" expression is that it gives a wrong idea of linearity in evolution, which couldn't be further than truth. Evolution works in branchs, not in strings.

      Isn't that obvious that "missing link" and "common ancestor" ideas are mutually exclusive?
    • some say is the missing link in bird evolution...

      Really? Who said that? It wasn't even mentioned in TFA. It seems a reflex to add the phrase when mentioning any significant fossil discovery. I also like how the word "evolution" is prominently in the headline. It seems calculated to bring on rerun #497 of Slashdot's evolution vs creationism flamewar. Well, it's usually good for 800 posts, maybe after they get back from Church on Sunday.

      More interesting perhaps:

      During Gansus's time, a group of birds

      • > this aquatic bird

        You mean the duck.

        > ...had luck

        Amen to that! The luck of being found after 110 my is profound.

        Consider the 150 years or so of serious palentology that it took to find one 110 myo duck.
        Assuming that the rate of discovery decays exponentially with age, and it takes, let's say, a week to find a 10 yo duck corpse, exp(nx+m), x|0.02=>10, x|150=>1.1e8...

        I predict on the basis of curve fitting that after 10 more years we'll discover a duck that is 320 myo, and
        within 50 years the old
  • Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:20PM (#15553178) Homepage
    No you fools, now there are two missing links (previously we wanted to find C between A and B, now we want to find D between A and C, and E between C and B) Of course this all really goes to show that you can never completely verify evolution no matter how much evidence you collect (just like any scientific theory), which is fine since you can be certain of the truth of something even if there is a remote possibility of later disproof. The public's obsession with "missing links" just goes to show that they don't understand knowledge very well.
    • Of course this all really goes to show that you can never completely verify evolution no matter how much evidence you collect

      That argument is a fallacy, I don't have the list with me right now... but that HAS to be one. The reason is, there IS a point where the gaps can be filled in enough that it's obvious to anyone that it's a continuous graduation from one to the other. Take donkeys, mules and horses, nobody argues that they are SOMEHOW related... also dogs and wolves, foxes, nobody would try to argue
      • But people do argue that they are NOT somehow related, and that scientists produce the missing links between them. This is the silliness that I am arguing against. Also if you go far back enough in the fossil record I can guarantee you that there are some species which left no fossils, no matter how much we learn they will always be "missing links". Why do I say this? Because not every animal is fossilized, and the older fossils are the more of them have been destroyed by the elements. This combined wi
        • This is even more of a problem if punctuated equilibrium turns out to be the norm rather than the exception. If so, then *most* rapid transitions will be lost because there won't be a great many animals in any one generation during the transitional stage and the odds of any of those animals being fossilized are incredibly low. Large gaps in the record would exist, and would always exist, simply due to these low representative numbers and random chance. There simply wouldn't be any fossils to find - ever.
    • One funny thing about all these "missing link" reports is that this critter is dated to around 100 to 110 million years. But Archaeopterix is generally dated to around 140 million years (give or take 5 million). Some of the Chinese proto-bird fossils are slightly older than that. So this new fossil can't be a "missing link" between birds an earlier dinosaurs.

      Of course, the scientific reports don't seem to use the phrase "missing link". The significance is mostly that it's a high-quality new bird fossil,
  • by reklusband ( 862215 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:23PM (#15553189)
    KFC's stock soared 100 points with the news that the protoduck would be served boneless and with hot sauce. When asked to comment on the decision to serve 100 million year old extinct bird, a kfc representative was quoted as saying "It has to taste better that the cluck we serve now"
  • "During Gansus's time, a group of birds called the Enantiornitheans--known as opposite birds because their wing joints are reversed compared to their modern relatives--dominated the skies. But the opposite birds perished along with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago."

    Did these birds fly upside down, or in reverse gear?
  • Huh ?

    Is "Can you say OOOOLD news" department at it again ?
  • Name? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @11:09PM (#15553353) Homepage
    Following the naming convention of the "Peking Man" [], is this one going to be "Peking Duck"?
    • Following the naming convention of the "Peking Man", is this one going to be "Peking Duck"?

      No, because as the Latin name states, it came from Yumen [], not Peking.
  • Are there any real experts out there who can explain how they know this creature was amphibious? I looked at the image, and I see no indication that this creature spent most of its time in the water. It seems no different than a duck - adapted to the water, but certainly not spending most of its time there. How can you tell?
    • I was wondering about this myself. The article did say the fosils indicated a webed foot which would indicate, at least, a partially aquatic life. 'Amphibious' is a poor choice of words without more information. I think of ducks and other waterfowl as being 'aquatic' not amphibious as they spend much of their time on the water, not in the water. However, penguins, platypus', cormorants and a few others are exceptions I would consider amphibious as they are each great underwater swimmers.
    • I am hardly a real expert, but this is again is an overstatement from the popular press. What is known, and what can be seen in the pictures [], is that the subject likely had web feet and possible other features similiar to animals that lived in aquatic environments.

      The exact wording, from the abstract [] is
      The anatomy of Gansus, like that of other non-neornithean (nonmodern) ornithuran birds, indicates specialization for an amphibious life-style, supporting the hypothesis that modern birds originated in aq

    • . It seems no different than a duck - adapted to the water, but certainly not spending most of its time there.

      That's what "amhibious" means. You're probbaly thinking of "amhibians", like frogs, etc.

      amhibious Biology. Living or able to live both on land and in water.

  • "Missing link"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ylikone ( 589264 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @11:25PM (#15553387) Homepage
    I'm not that knowledgable about evolution but I do know that many keep saying that there really is no such thing as the "missing link" and people that keep refering to such an elusive idea do not fully understand. Why then, does slashdot, supposedly with a fairly intelligent readership, seem to keep posting articles with headlines containing "missing link" so often? Why keep talking about it like it has been found (again and again) if it really doesn't even need to exist in the first place? Sorry, I'm confused.
    • Re:"Missing link"? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anthrogeek ( 980738 )
      because "missing link" as a catch phrase has captured the imagination of the general public; it's a "Science McNugget" kind of thing. I spend a fair amount of classroom time discussing why the concept of a "missing link" is misleading. Unfortunately, there are some students who simply CANNOT rid themselves of the idea. I'm betting that many Slashdot readers also find themselves in the situation of simply not being able to lose the idea even when they *know* that it's wrong. It's simply too ingrained.
    • When people assert that there's no "missing link", we mean that there's no gap in the fossil record that is improbably out of step with the general spottiness of the fossil record. It's extremely unlikely for a fossil to be created, after all.. it's only the immensity of geologic time that has allowed so many to be recorded in the strata, that themselves undergo convulsions and deformations and plate subduction and assault by glaciers and drowning under changing sea levels. There's no guarantee that we'll
  • by johnshirley ( 709044 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @11:36PM (#15553420)
    Is it just me or does anyone else find that there's an unusually large number of unique fossils coming from China? Maybe it's because, like products manufactured for Walmart, they're mostly cheap crap []
    • Caveat Emptor (Score:3, Informative)

      There is nothing wrong with fossils coming out of China, in fact some of the fossil data coming out of China via legitimate digs by reputable scientists is very interesting. The problems start when foreign museums go buying fossils on the black market that have no history and that have been taken totally out of context by the looters who dug them up which in turn reduced their scientific value considerably and makes them valuable mostly to amateur collectors who buy them for bragging rights. Using black mar
    • When I first heard about this, I also thought was that they might be fakes. However, after the first few fossils were discovered by people working in stone quarries and such, trained western archeologists started conducting their own digs in China. So unless these professional archeologists are in on the deception, I think its likely that most, if not all, of these discoveries are legit.
  • Ah, Now there are two missing links, you know how it all goes, at least until they find another, then there will be three, ad infinum.
  • Where's the link? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icepick72 ( 834363 ) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @12:18AM (#15553521)
    The fossils even reveal impressions of feathers, webbed feet and other rare details, though none of the remains include a skull.

    Um ... they found an old duck ... and we still have ducks today ... and ... um ... can somebody please help me out figure out why the story title says "Scientists Find Missing Link in Bird Evolution". Thanks.

    • I think if it were a duck these guys would have noticed. They do know a bit about these things.

      As for why it says "missing link", that's because sensationalism is very popular.
    • First paragraph says it all, the rest is for edification. From here []


      Previously there was a gap between ancient and modern species of birds, and "Gansus fits perfectly into this gap," added Jerald D. Harris of Dixie State College in Utah.

      "Gansus is the oldest example of the nearly modern birds that branched off of the trunk of the family tree that began with the famous proto-bird Archaeopteryx," said Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania, a co-author of the paper along with Lamanna, You and

    • they found an old duck

      No, they found a new form that has some traits that ducks have. If it walks like a duck but doesn't quack like a duck, then it could be a predecessor to a duck.

      can somebody please help me out figure out why the story title says "Scientists Find Missing Link in Bird Evolution". Thanks.

      Because they found a signifigant transitional form. Not only is it not a duck, it fails to have many of the current defining traits of birds. It has a mix of traits - some primitive traits of proto-birds a
  • by Aussie ( 10167 ) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @01:52AM (#15553786) Journal
    To this the Duck replied, "What kind of bird are you, if you can't swim?"' - Sergei Prokofiev
  • Gah! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by curtvdh ( 738461 )

    C'mon people, get it right. There is no such thing as a 'missing link'. What we have here are previously unknown Transitional Fossils (you know - the kind that the Creationists keep insisting don't exist). Let's try to use the correct terminology. Furthermore, the subject line indicates that there is only one missing link, and we've found it (yay!). Truth is that there are countless missing Transitional Fossils, and no - it's has nothing to do with the loud yammering of Ignorant Bible-Bashers. The truth is

  • auntie? (Score:2, Funny)

    by sc0p3 ( 972992 )
    they found aunt martha! we've been looking for the old bird for years!

"Plastic gun. Ingenious. More coffee, please." -- The Phantom comics