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- ItemAnatomical specializations for nocturnality in a critically endangered parrot, the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)(Public Library of Science, 2011) Corfield, Jeremy R.; Gsell, Anna C.; Brunton, Dianne; Heesy, Christopher P.; Hall, Margaret I.; Acosta, Monica L.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.The shift from a diurnal to nocturnal lifestyle in vertebrates is generally associated with either enhanced visual sensitivity or a decreased reliance on vision. Within birds, most studies have focused on differences in the visual system across all birds with respect to nocturnality-diurnality. The critically endangered Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), a parrot endemic to New Zealand, is an example of a species that has evolved a nocturnal lifestyle in an otherwise diurnal lineage, but nothing is known about its’ visual system. Here, we provide a detailed morphological analysis of the orbits, brain, eye, and retina of the Kakapo and comparisons with other birds. Morphometric analyses revealed that the Kakapo’s orbits are significantly more convergent than other parrots, suggesting an increased binocular overlap in the visual field. The Kakapo exhibits an eye shape that is consistent with other nocturnal birds, including owls and nightjars, but is also within the range of the diurnal parrots. With respect to the brain, the Kakapo has a significantly smaller optic nerve and tectofugal visual pathway. Specifically, the optic tectum, nucleus rotundus and entopallium were significantly reduced in relative size compared to other parrots. There was no apparent reduction to the thalamofugal visual pathway. Finally, the retinal morphology of the Kakapo is similar to that of both diurnal and nocturnal birds, suggesting a retina that is specialised for a crepuscular niche. Overall, this suggests that the Kakapo has enhanced light sensitivity, poor visual acuity and a larger binocular field than other parrots. We conclude that the Kakapo possesses a visual system unlike that of either strictly nocturnal or diurnal birds and therefore does not adhere to the traditional view of the evolution of nocturnality in birds.
- ItemThe anatomy of the bill tip of Kiwi and associated somatosensory regions of the brain: comparisons with shorebirds(Public Library of Science, 2013) Cunningham, Susan J.; Corfield, Jeremy R.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Castro, Isabel; Alley, Maurice R.; Birkhead, Tim R.; Parsons, StuartThree families of probe-foraging birds, Scolopacidae (sandpipers and snipes), Apterygidae (kiwi), and Threskiornithidae (ibises, including spoonbills) have independently evolved long, narrow bills containing clusters of vibration-sensitive mechanoreceptors (Herbst corpuscles) within pits in the bill-tip. These ‘bill-tip organs’ allow birds to detect buried or submerged prey via substrate-borne vibrations and/or interstitial pressure gradients. Shorebirds, kiwi and ibises are only distantly related, with the phylogenetic divide between kiwi and the other two taxa being particularly deep. We compared the bill-tip structure and associated somatosensory regions in the brains of kiwi and shorebirds to understand the degree of convergence of these systems between the two taxa. For comparison, we also included data from other taxa including waterfowl (Anatidae) and parrots (Psittaculidae and Cacatuidae), nonapterygid ratites, and other probe-foraging and non probe-foraging birds including non-scolopacid shorebirds (Charadriidae, Haematopodidae, Recurvirostridae and Sternidae). We show that the bill-tip organ structure was broadly similar between the Apterygidae and Scolopacidae, however some inter-specific variation was found in the number, shape and orientation of sensory pits between the two groups. Kiwi, scolopacid shorebirds, waterfowl and parrots all shared hypertrophy or near-hypertrophy of the principal sensory trigeminal nucleus. Hypertrophy of the nucleus basorostralis, however, occurred only in waterfowl, kiwi, three of the scolopacid species examined and a species of oystercatcher (Charadriiformes: Haematopodidae). Hypertrophy of the principal sensory trigeminal nucleus in kiwi, Scolopacidae, and other tactile specialists appears to have co-evolved alongside bill-tip specializations, whereas hypertrophy of nucleus basorostralis may be influenced to a greater extent by other sensory inputs. We suggest that similarities between kiwi and scolopacid bill-tip organs and associated somatosensory brain regions are likely a result of similar ecological selective pressures, with inter-specific variations reflecting finer-scale niche differentiation.
- ItemAvian cerebellar floccular fossa size is not a proxy for flying ability in birds(Public Library of Science, 2013) Walsh, Stig A.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Knoll, Monja A.; Bourdon, Estelle; Barrett, Paul M.; Milner, Angela C.; Nudds, Robert L.; Abel, Richard L.; Sterpaio, Patricia DelloExtinct animal behavior has often been inferred from qualitative assessments of relative brain region size in fossil endocranial casts. For instance, flight capability in pterosaurs and early birds has been inferred from the relative size of the cerebellar flocculus, which in life protrudes from the lateral surface of the cerebellum. A primary role of the flocculus is to integrate sensory information about head rotation and translation to stabilize visual gaze via the vestibulo-occular reflex (VOR). Because gaze stabilization is a critical aspect of flight, some authors have suggested that the flocculus is enlarged in flying species. Whether this can be further extended to a floccular expansion in highly maneuverable flying species or floccular reduction in flightless species is unknown. Here, we used micro computed-tomography to reconstruct ‘‘virtual’’ endocranial casts of 60 extant bird species, to extract the same level of anatomical information offered by fossils. Volumes of the floccular fossa and entire brain cavity were measured and these values correlated with four indices of flying behavior. Although a weak positive relationship was found between floccular fossa size and brachial index, no significant relationship was found between floccular fossa size and any other flight mode classification. These findings could be the result of the bony endocranium inaccurately reflecting the size of the neural flocculus, but might also reflect the importance of the flocculus for all modes of locomotion in birds. We therefore conclude that the relative size of the flocculus of endocranial casts is an unreliable predictor of locomotor behavior in extinct birds, and probably also pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs.
- ItemDiversity in olfactory bulb size in birds reflects allometry, ecology and phylogeny(Frontiers Media, 2015) Corfield, Jeremy R.; Price, Kasandra; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Gutierrez-Ibanez, Cristian I.; Birkhead, Tim R.; Wylie, Douglas R.The relative size of olfactory bulbs (OBs) is correlated with olfactory capabilities across vertebrates and is widely used to assess the relative importance of olfaction to a species’ ecology. In birds, variations in the relative size of OBs are correlated with some behaviors; however, the factors that have led to the high level of diversity seen in OB sizes across birds are still not well understood. In this study, we use the relative size of OBs as a neuroanatomical proxy for olfactory capabilities in135 species of birds, representing 21 orders. We examine the scaling of OBs with brain size across avian orders,determine likely ancestral states and test for correlations between OB sizes and habitat, ecology, and behavior. The size of avianOBs varied with the size of the brain and this allometric relationship was for the most part isometric, although species did deviate from this trend. Large OBs were characteristic of more basal species and in more recently derived species the OBs were small. Living and foraging in a semi-aquatic environment was the strongest variable driving the evolution of large OBs in birds; olfactionmay provide cues for navigation and foraging in this otherwise feature less environment. Some of the diversity in OB sizes was also undoubtedly due to differences in migratory behavior, foraging strategies and socia lstructure. In summary, relative OB size in birds reflect allometry, phylogeny and behavior in ways that parallel that of other vertebrate classes. This provides comparative evidence that supports recent experimental studies into avian olfaction and suggests that olfaction is an important sensory modality for all avian species.
- ItemEvolutionary divergence in brain size between migratory and resident birds(Public Library of Science, 2010) Sol, Daniel; Garcia, Nuria; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Davis, Katie; Meade, Andrew; Boyle, W. Alice; Szekely, TamasDespite important recent progress in our understanding of brain evolution, controversy remains regarding the evolutionary forces that have driven its enormous diversification in size. Here, we report that in passerine birds, migratory species tend to have brains that are substantially smaller (relative to body size) than those of resident species, confirming and generalizing previous studies. Phylogenetic reconstructions based on Bayesian Markov chain methods suggest an evolutionary scenario in which some large brained tropical passerines that invaded more seasonal regions evolved migratory behavior and migration itself selected for smaller brain size. Selection for smaller brains in migratory birds may arise from the energetic and developmental costs associated with a highly mobile life cycle, a possibility that is supported by a path analysis. Nevertheless, an important fraction (over 68%) of the correlation between brain mass and migratory distance comes from a direct effect of migration on brain size, perhaps reflecting costs associated with cognitive functions that have become less necessary in migratory species. Overall, our results highlight the importance of retrospective analyses in identifying selective pressures that have shaped brain evolution, and indicate that when it comes to the brain, larger is not always better.
- ItemFunctional implications of species differences in the size and morphology of the isthmo optic nucleus (ION) in birds(Public Library of Science, 2013) Gutierrez-Ibanez, Cristian I.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Lisney, Thomas J.; Faunes, Macarena; Marin, Gonzalo J.; Wylie, Douglas R.In birds, there is a retinofugal projection from the brain to the retina originating from the isthmo optic nucleus (ION) in the midbrain. Despite a large number of anatomical, physiological and histochemical studies, the function of this retinofugal system remains unclear. Several functions have been proposed including: gaze stabilization, pecking behavior, dark adaptation, shifting attention, and detection of aerial predators. This nucleus varies in size and organization among some species, but the relative size and morphology of the ION has not been systematically studied. Here, we present a comparison of the relative size and morphology of the ION in 81 species of birds, representing 17 different orders. Our results show that several orders of birds, besides those previously reported, have a large, well-organized ION, including: hummingbirds, woodpeckers, coots and allies, and kingfishers. At the other end of the spectrum, parrots, herons, waterfowl, owls and diurnal raptors have relatively small ION volumes. ION also appears to be absent or unrecognizable is several taxa, including one of the basal avian groups, the tinamous, which suggests that the ION may have evolved only in the more modern group of birds, Neognathae. Finally, we demonstrate that evolutionary changes in the relative size and the cytoarchitectonic organization of ION have occurred largely independent of phylogeny. The large relative size of the ION in orders with very different lifestyles and feeding behaviors suggest there is no clear association with pecking behavior or predator detection. Instead, our results suggest that the ION is more complex and enlarged in birds that have eyes that are emmetropic in some parts of the visual field and myopic in others. We therefore posit that the ION is involved in switching attention between two parts of the retina i.e. from an emmetropic to a myopic part of the retina.
- ItemIntegrating brain, behavior, and phylogeny to understand the evolution of sensory systems in birds(Frontiers Media, 2015) Wylie, Douglas R.; Gutierrez-Ibanez, Cristian I.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.The comparative anatomy of sensory systems has played a major role in developing theories and principles central to evolutionary neuroscience. This includes the central tenet of many comparativestudies, the principle of proper mass, which states that the size of a neural structure reflects its processing capacity. The size of structures within the sensory system is not, however, the only salient variable in sensory evolution. Further, the evolution of the brain and behavior are intimately tied to phylgenetic history, requiring studies to integrate neuroanatomy with behavior and phylogeny to gain a more holistic view of brain evolution. Birds have proven to be a useful group for theses tudies because of widespread interest in their phylogenetic relationships and a wealth of information on the functional organization of most of their sensory pathways. In this review, we examine the principle of proper mass in relation differences in the sensory capabilities among birds. We discuss how neuroanatomy, behavior, and phylogeny can be integrated to understand the evolution of sensory systems in birds providing evidence from visual, auditory, and somatosensory systems. We also consider the concept of a “trade-off,” where by one sensory system (or subpathway within a sensory system), may be expanded in size, at the expense of others, which are reduced in size.
- ItemLandscape effects on the contemporary genetic structure of Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) populations(Wiley, 2019) Jensen, Ashley M.; O'Neil, Nicholas P.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Burg, Theresa M.The amount of dispersal that occurs among populations can be limited by landscape heterogeneity, which is often due to both natural processes and anthropogenic activity leading to habitat loss or fragmentation. Understanding how populations are structured and mapping existing dispersal corridors among populations is imperative to both determining contemporary forces mediating population connectivity, and informing proper management of species with fragmented populations. Furthermore, the contemporary processes mediating gene flow across heterogeneous landscapes on a large scale are understudied, particularly with respect to widespread species. This study focuses on a widespread game bird, the Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), for which we analyzed samples from the western extent of the range. Using three types of genetic markers, we uncovered multiple factors acting in concert that are responsible for mediating contemporary population connectivity in this species. Multiple genetically distinct groups were detected; microsatellite markers revealed six groups, and a mitochondrial marker revealed four. Many populations of Ruffed Grouse are genetically isolated, likely by macrogeographic barriers. Furthermore, the addition of landscape genetic methods not only corroborated genetic structure results, but also uncovered compelling evidence that dispersal resistance created by areas of unsuitable habitat is the most important factor mediating population connectivity among the sampled populations. This research has important implications for both our study species and other inhabitants of the early successional forest habitat preferred by Ruffed Grouse. Moreover, it adds to a growing body of evidence that isolation by resistance is more prevalent in shaping population structure of widespread species than previously thought.
- ItemMosaic and concerted evolution in the visual system of birds(Public Library of Science, 2014) Gutierrez-Ibanez, Cristian I.; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Moore, Bret A.; Fernandez-Juricic, Esteban; Corfield, Jeremy R.; Krilow, Justin M.; Kolominsky, Jeffrey; Wylie, Douglas R.Two main models have been proposed to explain how the relative size of neural structures varies through evolution. In the mosaic evolution model, individual brain structures vary in size independently of each other, whereas in the concerted evolution model developmental constraints result in different parts of the brain varying in size in a coordinated manner. Several studies have shown variation of the relative size of individual nuclei in the vertebrate brain, but it is currently not known if nuclei belonging to the same functional pathway vary independently of each other or in a concerted manner. The visual system of birds offers an ideal opportunity to specifically test which of the two models apply to an entire sensory pathway. Here, we examine the relative size of 9 different visual nuclei across 98 species of birds. This includes data on interspecific variation in the cytoarchitecture and relative size of the isthmal nuclei, which has not been previously reported. We also use a combination of statistical analyses, phylogenetically corrected principal component analysis and evolutionary rates of change on the absolute and relative size of the nine nuclei, to test if visual nuclei evolved in a concerted or mosaic manner. Our results strongly indicate a combination of mosaic and concerted evolution (in the relative size of nine nuclei) within the avian visual system. Specifically, the relative size of the isthmal nuclei and parts of the tectofugal pathway covary across species in a concerted fashion, whereas the relative volume of the other visual nuclei measured vary independently of one another, such as that predicted by the mosaic model. Our results suggest the covariation of different neural structures depends not only on the functional connectivity of each nucleus, but also on the diversity of afferents and efferents of each nucleus.
- ItemZebrin II / Aldolase C expression in the cerebellum of the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)(Public Library of Science, 2015) Aspden, Joel W.; Armstrong, Carol L.; Gutierrez-Ibanez, Cristian I.; Hawkes, Richard; Iwaniuk, Andrew N.; Kohl, Tobias; Graham, David J.; Wylie, Douglas R.Aldolase C, also known as Zebrin II (ZII), is a glycolytic enzyme that is expressed in cerebellar Purkinje cells of the vertebrate cerebellum. In both mammals and birds, ZII is expressed heterogeneously, such that there are sagittal stripes of Purkinje cells with high ZII expression (ZII+), alternating with stripes of Purkinje cells with little or no expression (ZII-). The patterns of ZII+ and ZII- stripes in the cerebellum of birds and mammals are strikingly similar, suggesting that it may have first evolved in the stem reptiles. In this study, we examined the expression of ZII in the cerebellum of the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). In contrast to birds and mammals, the cerebellum of the rattlesnake is much smaller and simpler, consisting of a small, unfoliated dome of cells. A pattern of alternating ZII+ and ZII- sagittal stripes cells was not observed: rather all Purkinje cells were ZII+. This suggests that ZII stripes have either been lost in snakes or that they evolved convergently in birds and mammals.