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Journal Articles Journal of Anatomy Year : 2020

Extensive chondroid bone in juvenile duck limbs hints at accelerated growth mechanism in avian skeletogenesis


Modern altricial birds are the fastest growing vertebrates, whereas various degrees of precocity (functional maturity) result in slower growth. Diaphyseal osteohistology, the best proxy for inferring relative growth rates in fossils, suggests that in the earliest birds, posthatching growth rates were more variable than in modern representatives, with some showing considerably slow growth that was attributed to their assumed precocial flight abilities. For finding clues how precocial or altricial skeletogenesis and related growth acceleration could be traced in avian evolution, as a case study we investigated the growing limb diaphyseal histology in an ontogenetic series of ducks which, among several other avian taxa, show a combination of altricial wing and precocial leg development. Here we report the unexpected discovery that chondroid bone, a skeletal tissue family intermediate between cartilage and bone, extensively contributes to the development of limb bone shaft in ducks up to at least 30 days posthatching age. To our knowledge, chondroid bone has never been reported in such quantities and with an ontogenetically extended deposition period in post-embryonic, non-pathological periosteal bone formation of any tetrapod limb. It shows transitional cellular/lacunar morphologies and matrix staining properties between cartilage and woven bone and takes a significant part in the diametric growth of the limb bone shaft. Its amount and distribution through duckling ontogeny seems to be associated with the disparate functional and growth trajectories of the altricial wings vs. precocial legs characteristic of duck limb development. The presence of isogenous cell groups in the periosteal chondroid bone implies that cartilage-like interstitial growth took place before matrix mineralization complementing appositional bone growth. Based on these characteristics and on its fast formation rate in all previously reported normal as well as pathological cases, we suggest that chondroid bone in ducks significantly accelerates diametric limb bone growth. Related to this growth acceleration, we hypothesize that chondroid bone may be generally present in the growing limb bones of modern birds and hence may have key skeletogenic importance in achieving extreme avian growth rates and placing birds among the fastest growing vertebrates. Thus, we encourage future studies to test this hypothesis by investigating the occurrence of chondroid bone in a variety of precocial and altricial bird species, and to explore the presence of similar tissues in the growing limbs of other extant and extinct tetrapods in order to understand the evolutionary significance of chondroid bone in accelerated appendicular skeletogenesis.

Dates and versions

mnhn-03891780 , version 1 (09-12-2022)



Edina Prondvai, P. Eckhard Witten, Anick Abourachid, Ann Huysseune, Dominique Adriaens. Extensive chondroid bone in juvenile duck limbs hints at accelerated growth mechanism in avian skeletogenesis. Journal of Anatomy, 2020, 236 (3), pp.463-473. ⟨10.1111/joa.13109⟩. ⟨mnhn-03891780⟩


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