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Published: January 5, 2015

An assessment of the relative thickness and density of limb bones in extinct diving birds (Aves, Hesperornithidae)

Stephanie Ware, Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

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Project Mentors: Dr. Peter J. Makovicky (Associate Curator of Dinosaurs, Integrative Research Center) and Dr. N. Adam Smith (JC Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow, Integrative Research Center)

Project Description: Histological studies of the limb bones of modern diving birds such as auks and penguins have documented different degrees of relative cortical bone thickness and bone density, facilitating correlations between microstructural features, behavior, and ecology of those birds. In contrast, the histology of fossil limb bones representing the extinct lineage of stem birds Hesperornithidae, has received comparatively little attention. Whether these archaic birds adapted strategies (e.g., osteosclerosis) similar to those observed in living birds to deal with the biomechanical constraints of locomotion in a medium as dense as water, remains largely unexplored.

Research methods and techniques: The REU participant will process computed tomographic (CT) images of hesperornithids (and other avian species for comparison) that will be collected at the Advanced Photon Source Synchotron Facility at Argonne National Lab. The REU will learn to use CT data to construct digital 3D models and will take measurements that will be used to calculate relative bone thickness and density (using software such as Amira and Bone Profiler). We will then make comparisons of bone microstructure with other, previously sampled, diving birds. These data may provide ethological and ecological insights into the evolution of diving in Hesperornithidae and the evolution of diving behavior in birds.


Stephanie Ware
Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

Stephanie Ware is currently a research assistant in the Division of Insects currently working with Dr. Petra Sierwald. She also works with Mary Hennen in the Division of Birds monitoring the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in Illinois.