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Evolution of Brain Size in the Palaeognath Lineage, with an Emphasis on New Zealand RatitesCorfield J.R.a, b · Wild J.M.a · Hauber M.E.b · Parsons S.b · Kubke M.F.a
aDepartment of Anatomy with Radiology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, bSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Brain size in vertebrates varies principally with body size. Although many studies have examined the variation of brain size in birds, there is little information on Palaeognaths, which include the ratite lineage of kiwi, emu, ostrich and extinct moa, as well as the tinamous. Therefore, we set out to determine to what extent the evolution of brain size in Palaeognaths parallels that of other birds, i.e., Neognaths, by analyzing the variation in the relative sizes of the brain and cerebral hemispheres of several species of ratites and tinamous. Our results indicate that the Palaeognaths possess relatively smaller brains and cerebral hemispheres than the Neognaths, with the exception of the kiwi radiation (Apteryx spp.). The external morphology and relatively large size of the brain of Apteryx, as well as the relatively large size of its telencephalon, contrast with other Palaeognaths, including two species of historically sympatric moa, suggesting that unique selective pressures towards increasing brain size accompanied the evolution of kiwi. Indeed, the size of the cerebral hemispheres with respect to total brain size of kiwi is rivaled only by a handful of parrots and songbirds, despite a lack of evidence of any advanced behavioral/cognitive abilities such as those reported for parrots and crows. In addition, the enlargement in brain and telencephalon size of the kiwi occurs despite the fact that this is a precocial bird. These findings form an exception to, and hence challenge, the current rules that govern changes in relative brain size in birds.
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