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Developmental modularity of the brain in the evolution of bird locomotion

Using high-resolution imaging and geometric morphology, we study the relation between brain anatomy and capability of flying in birds.

The evolutionary increase of related cerebral components strongly argues for an expanded CNS being integral to the origin of powered flight. In the present project, we will study adaptive aspects of this principal neuro-phenomenon related to the evolutionary gaining, specialization and secondary loss of the capability to fly. First, we shall establish developmental patterns of cerebral component modularity through a series of experiments on five model birds: ostrich (gigantic flightless runner), pheasant (ground-dweller/short-distance flier), turaco (weak flier/tree-dweller), pigeon (middle size active flier), flycatcher (miniaturized advanced flier), and crocodilians for plesiomorphic references. The high-resolution imaging (MR, CT, synchrotron) will be used to analyze divergent cerebrotypes in recent and fossil archosaurs. Finally, we shall extrapolate our datasets to reconstruct CNS patterns in the extinct forms, namely moa (a group of diversified gigantic birds), Archaeopteryx, and other basal birds and non-avian theropods.


Phaesant brain scanned by 4.7 Tesla MRI (IKEM, Dr. Jirák). Telencephalon – blue, diencephalon – cyan, mesencephalon – red, cerebellum – green, medulla oblongata – brown, chiasma opticum – violet.