Abstract

Endocasts are increasingly relied upon to examine avian brain evolution because they can be used across extant and extinct species. The endocasts of birds appear to be relatively faithful representatives of the external morphology of their brains, but it is unclear how well the size of a surface feature visible on endocasts reflects the volume of the underlying brain region. The optic lobe and the Wulst are two endocast structures that are clearly visible on the external surface of avian endocasts. As they overlie two major visual regions of the brain, the optic tectum and hyperpallium, the surface areas of the optic lobe and Wulst, respectively, are often used to infer visual abilities. To determine whether the surface area of these features reflects the volume of the underlying brain regions, we compared the surface areas of the optic lobes and Wulsts from digital endocasts with the volumes of the optic tecta and hyperpallia from the literature or measured from histological series of brains of the same species. Regression analyses revealed strong, statistically significant correlations between the volumes of the brain regions and the surface areas of the overlying endocast structures. In other words, the size of the hyperpallium and optic tectum can be reliably inferred from the surface areas of the Wulst and optic lobe, respectively. This validation opens the possibility of estimating brain-region volumes for extinct species in order to gain better insights in their visual ecology. It also emphasizes the importance of adopting a quantitative approach to the analysis of endocasts in the study of brain evolution.

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