The asymmetry of the carpal joint and the evolution of wing folding in maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs. 2010. C. Sullivan, et al. Proc. Roy. Soc. B, published online before print March 3.
Abstract :In extant birds, the hand is permanently abducted towards the ulna, and the wrist joint can bend extensively in this direction to fold the wing when not in use.
Anatomically, this asymmetric mobility of the wrist results from the wedge-like shape of one carpal bone, the radiale, and from the well-developed convexity of the trochlea at the proximal end of the carpometacarpus.
Among the theropod precursors of birds, a strongly convex trochlea is characteristic of Coelurosauria, a clade including the highly derived Maniraptora in addition to tyrannosaurs and compsognathids.
The shape of the radiale can be quantified using a ‘radiale angle’ between the proximal and distal articular surfaces. The radiale angle progressively increased still further within Maniraptora, with concurrent elongation of the forelimb feathers and the forelimb itself.
Carpal asymmetry would have permitted avian-like folding of the forelimb in order to protect the plumage, an early advantage of the flexible, asymmetric wrist inherited by birds.