Environment & Natural History


Ageing fossil birds using high-resolution X-Ray computed tomography

Over 100 Mesozoic bird fossils are known, but with few exceptions only a single specimen is known for each species. Is it really the case that for so many species only a single specimen for each has been preserved? Or could some of this diversity actually represent different juvenile age stages of the same species?

Estimating developmental age in fossil birds is crucial for answering this question. We can estimate age using the structure of microscopic pores within bone, which change with age and bone deposition rate. However, current age estimation methods are qualitative, destructive and 2D: incapable of capturing complex 3D bone structure. A more effective method is needed: a high-resolution 3D imaging technique that is non-destructive and validated in living birds.

The aim of this study is to develop a method of estimating developmental age using high-resolution micro-CT and apply this method to avian fossils in order to better understand the systematics, evolution and biology of birds.


Katherine Williams1, Gareth Dyke2, Neil Gostling3, Richard Oreffo4, Philipp Schneider1

Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, 2Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human Biology, University of Debrecen, Hungary, 3Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Southampton, 4Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton.

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