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Long Before Birds, Dinosaur Brains Wired for Flight

Science & Tech  (tags: ancient, computers, concept, discovery, investigation, paleontologists, research, scientists )

- 1751 days ago -
They found that characteristics of the typical "bird brain" could be found much earlier in history than was previously thought.

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Kit B (276)
Friday August 2, 2013, 11:57 am
Photo Credit: AMNH/A. Balanoff -- The transparent skull and opaque brain cast of Citipati osmolskae, an oviraptor dinosaur, is shown in this CT scan. The endocast is partitioned into the following neuroanatomical regions: brain stem (yellow), cerebellum (blue), optic lobes (red), cerebrum (green), and olfactory bulbs (orange).

Some nonavian dinosaurs, including carnivorous tyrannosaurs, may have had brains that were hardwired for flight long before even the earliest known birds started flapping their wings, a new study finds.

Scientists used high-resolution CT scanners to closely study the craniums of modern birds, nonavian dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx, considered by some to be one of the earliest known birds. They found that characteristics of the typical "bird brain" could be found much earlier in history than was previously thought.

"What we think of as birdlike features they keep falling down the evolutionary tree," said study lead author Amy Balanoff, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and a postdoctoral researcher at Stony Brook University, both in New York.

Archaeopteryx lived roughly 151 million to 149 million years ago, during the late stage of the Jurassic era. This early bird specimen has been branded as an evolutionary bridge between dinosaurs and modern birds, due to its signature blend of avian and reptilian features. The new findings, however, question whether Archaeopteryx, which was about the size of a raven, really was an evolutionary intermediate.

"Archaeopteryx has always been held up as a transitional species between nonavian dinosaurs and birds, but our study shows Archaeopteryx isn't unique in being in that space between more primitive dinosaurs and birds," Balanoff told LiveScience. "We found all these other closely related species that also fall in that close transitional space."

Head scans

Balanoff and her colleagues used CT scanners to measure the cranial cavities of more than two dozen specimens, including birdlike oviraptorosaurs and troodontids.

"What's really interesting about birds is that as their brain develops, it fills so much of the cranial cavity that it creates an impression on the surrounding bones," Balanoff said. "If you fill that space in and get rid of the bones, you have a cast of what the brain looked like during life."

The researchers stitched together these scans to build 3D reconstructions of the skull interiors. This enabled the scientists to calculate the volume of the cranial cavities, and the size of each brain's major anatomical regions.

Modern birds characteristically have large cranial cavities relative to body size, Balanoff said. Structurally, birds also have large forebrains that equip them with the coordination and vision necessary for flying. The new research suggests some dinosaurs may have already evolved these brain capabilities, even if they never took flight. [7 Surprising Facts About Dinosaurs]

"For a long time, bird brains were considered really different than those in other so-called reptiles," study co-author Mark Norell, chair of the division of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. "This is another case where the attributes that we traditionally have associated with birds actually can be seen cascading down the tree of life. We can now say that the bird brain was present in animals that were not really birds."

The changing brain

The researchers also zeroed in on a neurological structure, called the wulst, which is present in living birds and is important for information processing and motor control. In their digital brain casts of Archaeopteryx, the scientists found an indentation that could be from the wulst, but this same structure was not observed in nonavian dinosaurs, the researchers said.

Still, by comparing the different brains, the scientists discovered that several other nonavian dinosaurs had larger brains relative to their body size than Archaeopteryx. Being able to peer inside the skulls of the different specimens enabled the researchers to trace evolutionary changes.

"The story of brain size is more than its relationship to body size," study co-author Gabriel Bever, an assistant professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "If we also consider how the different regions of the brain changed relative to each other, we can gain insight into what factors drove brain evolution as well as what developmental mechanisms facilitated those changes."

The detailed findings of the study were published online today (July 31) in the journal Nature.
**** Other good pictures at VISIT SITE***

By: Denise Chow | Live Science |


Roger G (154)
Friday August 2, 2013, 1:24 pm
noted, thanks

Laurie H (817)
Friday August 2, 2013, 1:26 pm
So much for the old phrase, "Bird Brain!!!" LOL= this is a very interesting finding. Perhaps we can obtain more info on this track, to help with Dementia & Alzheimer's?? Thanks so much Kit!!!!~

JL A (281)
Friday August 2, 2013, 2:50 pm
I love the speed of our enhanced knowledge due to such technologies emerging and becoming cost-effective enough for research,

pam w (139)
Friday August 2, 2013, 3:25 pm
When birds are born, they already know everything they need to know in life!

Here's another example of paradise, soon to be lost.

Mitchell D (95)
Friday August 2, 2013, 5:33 pm
This makes complete sense, as evolution does not create new forms, or new functions, out of cold cloth. Everything is derived from something else. That non-avian dinos had similar brain structures, and functions, but those that later evolved into birds, used them for bird, or bird-like activities, is typical of nature using attributes that already exist in new ways. Nature does not go around re-inventing the wheel, all over the place.
the bones in our inner ears, for example, are present in much more primitive species, and "migrated" to their present location over eons. Once nature comes across a successful pattern of structure and function, it uses and recycles it.
Photosensitive spots, or areas, have been found in hugely primitive species (Scientific American had a feature on this years ago) that presumably played a role in providing a=one, or more, advantages to these animals, that eventually became eyes. No apologies to the "Creationists" out there.

Sheila D (194)
Friday August 2, 2013, 5:39 pm
Interesting. Seems as though chickens have more brains than some of our illustrious GOP and Supreme Court Justices...Noted with thanks.

Mitchell D (95)
Friday August 2, 2013, 5:44 pm
P.S.: See my comment, in Judy's posting about "Communities of plastic eating microbes thriving on marine debris," for an extension of the evolutionary principle of nature re-tooling what is already there, but perhaps in a dormant state.
The posting is in "Science and Tech."

Kit B (276)
Friday August 2, 2013, 6:13 pm

I read Judy's article about the "Plastic Eaters" - that is really a marvelous example of adaptation. ---
Scientists Have Discovered Microbial Communities Thriving on Plastic Marine Debris

Lindsey O (19)
Friday August 2, 2013, 6:19 pm
Amazing that the contours of the creatures' brains can imprint on the skull. And wonderful how most times when the timeframe for something in evolution is altered it usually ends up stretching out further into the past. Note to young-earth creationists - things keep getting older all the time!

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Friday August 2, 2013, 8:57 pm
Fascinating and intriguing.

Robert Hardy (68)
Friday August 2, 2013, 11:35 pm
And with this information we will........

Kit B (276)
Saturday August 3, 2013, 11:10 am

Robert, with all this information you will feel erudite.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday August 3, 2013, 12:37 pm
T. Rex - now that's one big chicken.

Bryna Pizzo (139)
Saturday August 3, 2013, 3:54 pm
Thank you for the fascinating post! Science has always amazed me!

Nikki Davey (16)
Saturday July 4, 2015, 11:51 pm
Fascinating article thanks
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