Anseriform birds (ducks and geese) as well as parrots and songbirds have evolved a disproportionately enlarged telencephalon compared with many other birds. However, parrots and songbirds differ from anseriform birds in their mode of development. Whereas ducks and geese are precocial (e.g., hatchlings feed on their own), parrots and songbirds are altricial (e.g., hatchlings are fed by their parents). We here consider how developmental modes may limit and facilitate specific changes in the mechanisms of brain development. We suggest that altriciality facilitates the evolution of telencephalic expansion by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis. We further hypothesize that delays in telencephalic neurogenesis generate delays in telencephalic maturation, which in turn foster neural adaptations that facilitate learning. Specifically, we propose that delaying telencephalic neurogenesis was a prerequisite for the evolution of neural circuits that allow parrots and songbirds to produce learned vocalizations. Overall, we argue that developmental modes have influenced how some lineages of birds increased the size of their telencephalon and that this, in turn, has influenced subsequent changes in brain circuits and behavior.
bird; mode; development; proliferation; evolution
The Galliformes is a well-known and widely distributed Order in Aves. The phylogenetic relationships of galliform birds, especially the turkeys, grouse, chickens, quails, and pheasants, have been studied intensively, likely because of their close association with humans. Despite extensive studies, convergent morphological evolution and rapid radiation have resulted in conflicting hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships. Many internal nodes have remained ambiguous.
We analyzed the complete mitochondrial (mt) genomes from 34 galliform species, including 14 new mt genomes and 20 published mt genomes, and obtained a single, robust tree. Most of the internal branches were relatively short and the terminal branches long suggesting an ancient, rapid radiation. The Megapodiidae formed the sister group to all other galliforms, followed in sequence by the Cracidae, Odontophoridae and Numididae. The remaining clade included the Phasianidae, Tetraonidae and Meleagrididae. The genus Arborophila was the sister group of the remaining taxa followed by Polyplectron. This was followed by two major clades: ((((Gallus, Bambusicola) Francolinus) (Coturnix, Alectoris)) Pavo) and (((((((Chrysolophus, Phasianus) Lophura) Syrmaticus) Perdix) Pucrasia) (Meleagris, Bonasa)) ((Lophophorus, Tetraophasis) Tragopan))).
The traditional hypothesis of monophyletic lineages of pheasants, partridges, peafowls and tragopans was not supported in this study. Mitogenomic analyses recovered robust phylogenetic relationships and suggested that the Galliformes formed a model group for the study of morphological and behavioral evolution.
Like humans, birds that exhibit vocal learning have relatively delayed telencephalon maturation, resulting in a disproportionately smaller brain prenatally but enlarged telencephalon in adulthood relative to vocal non-learning birds. To determine if this size difference results from evolutionary changes in cell-autonomous or cell-interdependent developmental processes, we transplanted telencephala from zebra finch donors (a vocal-learning species) into Japanese quail hosts (a vocal non-learning species) during the early neural tube stage (day 2 of incubation), and harvested the chimeras at later embryonic stages (between 9–12 days of incubation). The donor and host tissues fused well with each other, with known major fiber pathways connecting the zebra finch and quail parts of the brain. However, the overall sizes of chimeric finch telencephala were larger than non-transplanted finch telencephala at the same developmental stages, even though the proportional sizes of telencephalic subregions and fiber tracts were similar to normal finches. There were no significant changes in the size of chimeric quail host midbrains, even though they were innervated by the physically smaller zebra finch brain, including the smaller retinae of the finch eyes. Chimeric zebra finch telencephala had a decreased cell density relative to normal finches. However, cell nucleus size differences between each species were maintained as in normal birds. These results suggest that telencephalic size development is partially cell-interdependent, and that the mechanisms controlling the size of different brain regions may be functionally independent.
Galliform birds (relatives of the chicken and turkey) have attracted substantial attention due to their importance to society and value as model systems. This makes understanding the evolutionary history of Galliformes, especially the species-rich family Phasianidae, particularly interesting and important for comparative studies in this group. Previous studies have differed in their conclusions regarding galliform phylogeny. Some of these studies have suggested that specific clades within this order underwent rapid radiations, potentially leading to the observed difficulty in resolving their phylogenetic relationships. Here we presented analyses of six nuclear intron sequences and two mitochondrial regions, an amount of sequence data larger than many previous studies, and expanded taxon sampling by collecting data from 88 galliform species and four anseriform outgroups. Our results corroborated recent studies describing relationships among the major families, and provided further evidence that the traditional division of the largest family, the Phasianidae into two major groups (“pheasants” and “partridges”) is not valid. Within the Phasianidae, relationships among many genera have varied among studies and there has been little consensus for the placement of many taxa. Using this large dataset, with substantial sampling within the Phasianidae, we obtained strong bootstrap support to confirm some previously hypothesized relationships and we were able to exclude others. In addition, we added the first nuclear sequence data for the partridge and quail genera Ammoperdix, Caloperdix, Excalfactoria, and Margaroperdix, placing these taxa in the galliform tree of life with confidence. Despite the novel insights obtained by combining increased sampling of taxa and loci, our results suggest that additional data collection will be necessary to solve the remaining uncertainties.
The MHC, which is regarded as the most polymorphic region in the genomes of jawed vertebrates, plays a central role in the immune system by encoding various proteins involved in the immune response. The chicken MHC-B genomic region has a highly streamlined gene content compared to mammalian MHCs. Its core region includes genes encoding Class I and Class IIB molecules but is only ~92Kb in length. Sequences of other galliform MHCs show varying degrees of similarity as that of chicken. The black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) is a wild galliform bird species which is an important model in conservation genetics and ecology. We sequenced the black grouse core MHC-B region and combined this with available data from related species (chicken, turkey, gold pheasant and quail) to perform a comparative genomics study of the galliform MHC. This kind of analysis has previously been severely hampered by the lack of genomic information on avian MHC regions, and the galliformes is still the only bird lineage where such a comparison is possible.
In this study, we present the complete genomic sequence of the MHC-B locus of black grouse, which is 88,390 bp long and contains 19 genes. It shows the same simplicity as, and almost perfect synteny with, the corresponding genomic region of chicken. We also use 454-transcriptome sequencing to verify expression in 17 of the black grouse MHC-B genes. Multiple sequence inversions of the TAPBP gene and TAP1-TAP2 gene block identify the recombination breakpoints near the BF and BLB genes. Some of the genes in the galliform MHC-B region also seem to have been affected by selective forces, as inferred from deviating phylogenetic signals and elevated rates of non-synonymous nucleotide substitutions.
We conclude that there is large synteny between the MHC-B region of the black grouse and that of other galliform birds, but that some duplications and rearrangements have occurred within this lineage. The MHC-B sequence reported here will provide a valuable resource for future studies on the evolution of the avian MHC genes and on links between immunogenetics and ecology of black grouse.
The optic tectum plays a key role in visual processing in birds. While the input from the retina is topographic in the superficial layers, the deep layers project to the thalamic nucleus rotundus in a functional topographical manner. Although the receptive fields of tectal neurons in birds have been mapped before, a high resolution description of the white and black subfields of the receptive fields of tectal neurons is not available. We measured the receptive fields of neurons in the different layers of the tectum of anesthetized chickens with black and white stimuli that were flashed on a grey background in fast progression. Our results show that neurons in the deep layers of the optic tectum tend to respond stronger to black stimuli compared to white stimuli. In addition, the receptive field sizes are larger when measured using black stimuli than with white stimuli. While the black subfield was significantly larger than the white subfield for the intermediate and deep layers, no significant effects were found for the superficial layers. Finally, we investigated the optimal stimulus size in a subset of the neurons and found that these cells respond best to small white stimuli and to large black stimuli. In the majority of the cases the response was stronger to a large black bar than to a small white bar. We propose that such a stronger response to black stimuli might be advantageous for the detection of darker objects against the brighter sky.
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.
Birds use various vocalizations to communicate with one another, and some are acquired through learning. So far, three families of birds (songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds) have been identified as having vocal learning ability. Previously, we found that cadherins, a large family of cell-adhesion molecules, show vocal control-area-related expression in a songbird, the Bengalese finch. To investigate the molecular basis of evolution in avian species, we conducted comparative analysis of cadherin expressions in the vocal and other neural systems among vocal learners (Bengalese finch and budgerigar) and a non-learner (quail and ring dove). The gene expression analysis revealed that cadherin expressions were more variable in vocal and auditory areas compared to vocally unrelated areas such as the visual areas among these species. Thus, it appears that such diverse cadherin expressions might have been related to generating species diversity in vocal behavior during the evolution of avian vocal learning.
cadherin; evolution; gene expression; parrot; quail; ring dove; songbird; vocal learning
Learned vocalization, the substrate for human language, is a rare trait. It is found in three distantly related groups of birds—parrots, hummingbirds, and songbirds. These three groups contain cerebral vocal nuclei for learned vocalization not found in their more closely related vocal nonlearning relatives. Here, we cloned 21 receptor subunits/subtypes of all four glutamate receptor families (AMPA, kainate, NMDA, and metabotropic) and examined their expression in vocal nuclei of songbirds. We also examined expression of a subset of these receptors in vocal nuclei of hummingbirds and parrots, as well as in the brains of dove species as examples of close vocal nonlearning relatives. Among the 21 subunits/subtypes, 19 showed higher and/or lower prominent differential expression in songbird vocal nuclei relative to the surrounding brain subdivisions in which the vocal nuclei are located. This included relatively lower levels of all four AMPA subunits in lMAN, strikingly higher levels of the kainite subunit GluR5 in the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA), higher and lower levels respectively of the NMDA subunits NR2A and NR2B in most vocal nuclei and lower levels of the metabotropic group I subtypes (mGluR1 and -5) in most vocal nuclei and the group II subtype (mGluR2), showing a unique expression pattern of very low levels in RA and very high levels in HVC. The splice variants of AMPA subunits showed further differential expression in vocal nuclei. Some of the receptor subunits/subtypes also showed differential expression in hummingbird and parrot vocal nuclei. The magnitude of differential expression in vocal nuclei of all three vocal learners was unique compared with the smaller magnitude of differences found for nonvocal areas of vocal learners and vocal nonlearners. Our results suggest that evolution of vocal learning was accompanied by differential expression of a conserved gene family for synaptic transmission and plasticity in vocal nuclei. They also suggest that neural activity and signal transduction in vocal nuclei of vocal learners will be different relative to the surrounding brain areas.
song system; song nuclei; neurotransmitter
We determined the cellular localization of an endogenous lectin at various times during the development of a well-characterized region of chick brain, the optic tectum. This lectin is a carbohydrate-binding protein that interacts with lactose and other saccharides, undergoes striking changes in specific activity with development, and has previously been purified by affinity chromatography from extracts of embryonic chick brain and muscle. Cellular localization in the tectum was done by indirect immunofluoresecent staining, using immunoglobulin G derived from an antiserum raised against pure lectin. No lectin was detectable in the optic tectum examined at 5 days of embryonic development. From approximately 7 days of development, neuronal cell bodies and fibers were labeled by the antibody; and extracts of tectum contained hemagglutination activity that could be inhibited by lactose or by the antiserum. Lectin remained present in many tectal neuronal layers after hatching; but in 2-month-old chicks it was sparse or absent in most of the tectum except for prominent labeling of fibers in the stratum album centrale. The initial appearance of lectin in the optic tectum was not dependent on innervation by optic nerve fibers since bilateral enucleation during embryogenesis did not affect it. Lectin was detectable on the surface of embryonic optic tectal neurons dissociated with a buffer containing EDTA.
Avian-origin influenza A(H7N9) recently emerged in China, causing severe human disease. Several subtype H7N9 isolates contain influenza genes previously identified in viruses from finch-like birds. Because wild and domestic songbirds interact with humans and poultry, we investigated the susceptibility and transmissibility of subtype H7N9 in these species. Finches, sparrows, and parakeets supported replication of a human subtype H7N9 isolate, shed high titers through the oropharyngeal route, and showed few disease signs. Virus was shed into water troughs, and several contact animals seroconverted, although they shed little virus. Our study demonstrates that a human isolate can replicate in and be shed by such songbirds and parakeets into their environment. This finding has implications for these birds’ potential as intermediate hosts with the ability to facilitate transmission and dissemination of A(H7N9) virus.
influenza virus H7N9; influenza virus avian; influenza virus human; finch; sparrow; budgerigar; songbird; transmission; host intermediate; Passeriformes; Psittaciformes; China; zoonoses; parakeets
Parrots and songbirds learn their vocalizations from a conspecific tutor, much like human infants acquire spoken language. Parrots can learn human words and it has been suggested that they can use them to communicate with humans. The caudomedial pallium in the parrot brain is homologous with that of songbirds, and analogous to the human auditory association cortex, involved in speech processing. Here we investigated neuronal activation, measured as expression of the protein product of the immediate early gene ZENK, in relation to auditory learning in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), a parrot. Budgerigar males successfully learned to discriminate two Japanese words spoken by another male conspecific. Re-exposure to the two discriminanda led to increased neuronal activation in the caudomedial pallium, but not in the hippocampus, compared to untrained birds that were exposed to the same words, or were not exposed to words. Neuronal activation in the caudomedial pallium of the experimental birds was correlated significantly and positively with the percentage of correct responses in the discrimination task. These results suggest that in a parrot, the caudomedial pallium is involved in auditory learning. Thus, in parrots, songbirds and humans, analogous brain regions may contain the neural substrate for auditory learning and memory.
Intraventricular injections of the fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) are known to increase the size of the optic tectum in embryonic chicks. Here we show that this increase in tectum size is due to a delay in tectal neurogenesis, which by definition extends the proliferation of tectal progenitors. Specifically, we use cumulative labeling with the thymidine analog EdU to demonstrate that FGF2 treatment on embryonic day 4 (ED4) reduces the proportion and absolute number of unlabeled cells in the rostroventral tectum when EdU infusions are begun on ED5, as one would expect if FGF2 retards tectal neurogenesis. We also examined FGF2′s effect on neurogenesis in the caudodorsal tectum, which is born 2-3 days after the rostroventral tectum, by combining FGF2 treatment on ED4 with EDU infusions beginning on ED8. Again, FGF2 treatment reduced the proportion and number of EdU-negative (i.e., unlabeled) cells, consistent with a delay in neurogenesis. Collectively, these data indicate FGF2 in embryonic chicks delays neurogenesis throughout much of the tectum and continues to do so for several days after the FGF2 injection. One effect of this delay in neurogenesis is that tectal cell numbers more than double. In addition, tectal laminae that are born early in development become abnormally thin and cell-sparse after FGF2 treatment, whereas late-born layers remain unaffected. Combined with the results of prior work, these data indicate that FGF2 delays tectal neurogenesis and, thereby, triggers a cascade of changes in tectum size and morphology.
Resolving the phylogenetic relationships among birds is a classical problem in systematics, and this is particularly so when it comes to understanding the relationships among Neoaves. Previous phylogenetic inference of birds has been limited to mitochondrial genomes or a few nuclear genes. Here, we apply deep brain transcriptome sequencing of nine bird species (several passerines, hummingbirds, dove, parrot, and emu), using next-generation sequencing technology to understand features of transcriptome evolution in birds and how this affects phylogenetic inference, and combine with data from two bird species using first generation technology. The phylogenomic data matrix comprises 1,995 genes and a total of 0.77 Mb of exonic sequence. First, we find an unexpected heterogeneity in the evolution of base composition among avian lineages. There is a pronounced increase in guanine + cytosine (GC) content in the third codon position in several independent lineages, with the strongest effect seen in passerines. Second, we evaluate the effect of GC content variation on phylogenetic reconstruction. We find important inconsistencies between the topologies obtained with or without taking GC variation into account, each supporting different conclusions of past studies and also influencing hypotheses on the evolution of the trait of vocal learning. Third, we demonstrate a link between GC content evolution and recombination rate and, focusing on the zebra finch lineage, find that recombination seems to drive GC content. Although we cannot reveal the causal relationships, this observation is consistent with the model of GC-biased gene conversion. Finally, we use this unparalleled amount of avian sequence data to study the rate of molecular evolution, calibrated by fossil evidence and augmented with data from alligator transcriptome sequencing. There is a 2- to 3-fold variation in substitution rate among lineages with passerines being the most rapidly evolving and ratites the slowest. This study illustrates the potential of next-generation sequencing for phylogenomic studies but also the pitfalls when using genome-wide data with heterogeneous base composition.
birds; phylogenetics; base composition; recombination rate; substitution rate; molecular dating
► First reported cases of renal trematodosis in endangered red bird-of-paradise and Socorro doves. ► Paratanasia bragai identified morphologically and molecularly in several previously unreported columbiformes. ► New diagnostics developed from this work will be of direct benefit to the conservation of avian species.
Trematode infections affect a diverse range of avian species and the organs that are parasitised are also very varied. The family Eucotylidae contains seven genera of renal flukes that parasitise various birds. In birds, mild to severe lesions have been reported for species of the genus Paratanaisia, which was originally described from columbiform and galliform specimens collected in South America and has been identified in a number of wild avian species.
This paper investigates eight cases of renal trematode infection at Chester Zoo in the UK due to Paratanaisia bragai in five previously unreported species: red bird-of-paradise, Socorro dove, Mindanao bleeding heart dove, laughing dove and emerald dove. Pathological changes, which varied between species, are discussed. A known intermediate snail host Allopeas clavulinum was present in the enclosures but there was no direct evidence of trematode infection. The size of the snails, possible low prevalence and the difficulty of visualising sporocysts contributed to this. Thus the development and application of further molecular diagnostic markers that can be applied to snail tissues is warranted. Parasite identification was confirmed utilizing DNA amplification from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues using PCR and trematode specific primers. Sequencing full ssrDNA and D1-D3 lsrDNA confirmed the identity in all cases as P. bragai. However, the short 310 bp fragment used provides insufficient variation or sequence length for wider application. The epidemiology, pathology and consequences for the management of these endangered species are discussed. Preliminary work on developing an effective ante mortem diagnostic PCR test kit is also highlighted.
Paratanaisia bragai; Red bird-of-paradise; Socorro dove; Epidemiology; Diagnosis
Gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH) was originally identified in quail as a hypothalamic neuropeptide inhibitor of pituitary gonadotropin synthesis and release. However, GnIH neuronal fibers do not only terminate in the median eminence to control anterior pituitary function but also extend widely in the brain, suggesting it has multiple roles in the regulation of behavior. To identify the role of GnIH neurons in the regulation of behavior, we investigated the effect of RNA interference (RNAi) of the GnIH gene on the behavior of white-crowned sparrows, a highly social songbird species. Administration of small interfering RNA against GnIH precursor mRNA into the third ventricle of male and female birds reduced resting time, spontaneous production of complex vocalizations, and stimulated brief agonistic vocalizations. GnIH RNAi further enhanced song production of short duration in male birds when they were challenged by playbacks of novel male songs. These behaviors resembled those of breeding birds during territorial defense. The overall results suggest that GnIH gene silencing induces arousal. In addition, the activities of male and female birds were negatively correlated with GnIH mRNA expression in the paraventricular nucleus. Density of GnIH neuronal fibers in the ventral tegmental area was decreased by GnIH RNAi treatment in female birds, and the number of gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons that received close appositions of GnIH neuronal fiber terminals was negatively correlated with the activity of male birds. In summary, GnIH may decrease arousal level resulting in the inhibition of specific motivated behavior such as in reproductive contexts.
Mechanisms for the evolution of convergent behavioral traits are largely unknown. Vocal learning is one such trait that evolved multiple times and is necessary in humans for the acquisition of spoken language. Among birds, vocal learning is evolved in songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds. Each time similar forebrain song nuclei specialized for vocal learning and production have evolved. This finding led to the hypothesis that the behavioral and neuroanatomical convergences for vocal learning could be associated with molecular convergence. We previously found that the neural activity-induced gene dual specificity phosphatase 1 (dusp1) was up-regulated in non-vocal circuits, specifically in sensory-input neurons of the thalamus and telencephalon; however, dusp1 was not up-regulated in higher order sensory neurons or motor circuits. Here we show that song motor nuclei are an exception to this pattern. The song nuclei of species from all known vocal learning avian lineages showed motor-driven up-regulation of dusp1 expression induced by singing. There was no detectable motor-driven dusp1 expression throughout the rest of the forebrain after non-vocal motor performance. This pattern contrasts with expression of the commonly studied activity-induced gene egr1, which shows motor-driven expression in song nuclei induced by singing, but also motor-driven expression in adjacent brain regions after non-vocal motor behaviors. In the vocal non-learning avian species, we found no detectable vocalizing-driven dusp1 expression in the forebrain. These findings suggest that independent evolutions of neural systems for vocal learning were accompanied by selection for specialized motor-driven expression of the dusp1 gene in those circuits. This specialized expression of dusp1 could potentially lead to differential regulation of dusp1-modulated molecular cascades in vocal learning circuits.
The African cichlid Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia) has been used as a model system in a wide range of behavioural and neurobiological studies. The increasing number of genetic tools available for this species, together with the emerging interest in its use for neurobiological studies, increased the need for an accurate hodological mapping of the tilapia brain to supplement the available histological data. The goal of our study was to elaborate a three-dimensional, high-resolution digital atlas using magnetic resonance imaging, supported by Nissl staining. Resulting images were viewed and analysed in all orientations (transverse, sagittal, and horizontal) and manually labelled to reveal structures in the olfactory bulb, telencephalon, diencephalon, optic tectum, and cerebellum. This high resolution tilapia brain atlas is expected to become a very useful tool for neuroscientists using this fish model and will certainly expand their use in future studies regarding the central nervous system.
Neural circuits in the vertebrate retina extract the direction of object motion from visual scenes and convey this information to sensory brain areas, including the optic tectum. It is unclear how computational layers beyond the retina process directional inputs. Recent developmental and functional studies in the zebrafish larva, using minimally invasive optical imaging techniques, indicate that direction selectivity might be a genetically hardwired property of the zebrafish brain. Axons from specific direction-selective (DS) retinal ganglion cells appear to converge on distinct laminae in the superficial tectal neuropil where they serve as inputs to DS postsynaptic neurons of matching specificity. In addition, inhibitory recurrent circuits in the tectum might strengthen the DS response of tectal output neurons. Here we review these recent findings and discuss some controversies with a particular focus on the zebrafish tectum’s role in extracting directional features from moving visual scenes.
visual system; direction selectivity; zebrafish; optic tectum; neural circuits
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.
With the publication of the draft chicken genome and the recent production of several BAC clone libraries from non-avian reptiles and birds, it is now possible to undertake more detailed comparative genomic studies in Reptilia. Of interest in particular are the genomic events that transformed the large, repeat-rich genomes of mammals and non-avian reptiles into the minimalist chicken genome. We have used paired BAC end sequences (BESs) from the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) and emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) to investigate patterns of sequence divergence, gene and retroelement content, and microsynteny between these species and chicken.
From a total of 11,967 curated BESs, we successfully mapped 725, 773 and 2597 sequences in alligator, turtle, and emu, respectively, to sites in the draft chicken genome using a stringent BLAST protocol. Most commonly, sequences mapped to a single site in the chicken genome. Of 1675, 1828 and 2936 paired BESs obtained for alligator, turtle, and emu, respectively, a total of 34 (alligator, 2%), 24 (turtle, 1.3%) and 479 (emu, 16.3%) pairs were found to map with high confidence and in the correct orientation and with BAC-sized intermarker distances to single chicken chromosomes, including 25 such paired hits in emu mapping to the chicken Z chromosome. By determining the insert sizes of a subset of BAC clones from these three species, we also found a significant correlation between the intermarker distance in alligator and turtle and in chicken, with slopes as expected on the basis of the ratio of the genome sizes.
Our results suggest that a large number of small-scale chromosomal rearrangements and deletions in the lineage leading to chicken have drastically reduced the number of detected syntenies observed between the chicken and alligator, turtle, and emu genomes and imply that small deletions occurring widely throughout the genomes of reptilian and avian ancestors led to the ~50% reduction in genome size observed in birds compared to reptiles. We have also mapped and identified likely gene regions in hundreds of new BAC clones from these species.
Some altricial and some precocial species of birds have evolved enlarged telencephalons compared with other birds. Previous work has shown that finches and parakeets, two species that hatch in an immature (i.e. altricial) state, enlarged their telencephalon by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis. To determine whether species that hatch in a relatively mature (i.e. precocial) state also enlarged their telencephalon by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis, we examined brain development in geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens, which are all precocial. Whereas the telencephalon occupies less than 55 per cent of the brain in chickens and turkeys, it occupies more than 65 per cent in ducks and geese. To determine how these species differences in adult brain region proportions arise during development, we examined brain maturation (i.e. neurogenesis timing) and estimated telencephalon, tectum and medulla volumes from serial Nissl-stained sections in the four species. We found that incubation time predicts the timing of neurogenesis in all major brain regions and that the telencephalon is proportionally larger in ducks and geese before telencephalic neurogenesis begins. These findings demonstrate that the expansion of the telencephalon in ducks and geese is achieved by altering development prior to neurogenesis onset. Thus, precocial and altricial species evolved different developmental strategies to expand their telencephalon.
neurogenesis; Anseriformes; size; telencephalon; precocial; altricial
Spoken language and learned song are complex communication behaviors found in only a few species, including humans and three groups of distantly related birds – songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds. Despite their large phylogenetic distances, these vocal learners show convergent behaviors and associated brain pathways for vocal communication. However, it is not clear whether this behavioral and anatomical convergence is associated with molecular convergence. Here we used oligo microarrays to screen for genes differentially regulated in brain nuclei necessary for producing learned vocalizations relative to adjacent brain areas that control other behaviors in avian vocal learners versus vocal non-learners. A top candidate gene in our screen was a calcium-binding protein, parvalbumin (PV). In situ hybridization verification revealed that PV was expressed significantly higher throughout the song motor pathway, including brainstem vocal motor neurons relative to the surrounding brain regions of all distantly related avian vocal learners. This differential expression was specific to PV and vocal learners, as it was not found in avian vocal non-learners nor for control genes in learners and non-learners. Similar to the vocal learning birds, higher PV up-regulation was found in the brainstem tongue motor neurons used for speech production in humans relative to a non-human primate, macaques. These results suggest repeated convergent evolution of differential PV up-regulation in the brains of vocal learners separated by more than 65–300 million years from a common ancestor and that the specialized behaviors of learned song and speech may require extra calcium buffering and signaling.
Understanding the mechanisms that lead organisms to be separated into distinct species remains a challenge in evolutionary biology. Interspecific hybridization, which results from incomplete reproductive isolation, is a useful tool to investigate such mechanisms. In birds, interspecific hybridization is relatively frequent, despite the fact that closed species exhibit morphological and behavioural differences. Evolution of behaviour is difficult to investigate on a large timescale since it does not ‘fossilize’. Here I propose that calls of hybrid non-songbirds that develop without the influence of learning may help in understanding the gradual process that leads to vocal divergence during speciation. I recorded crows produced by the European quail (Coturnix c. coturnix), the domestic Japanese quail (Coturnix c. japonica) and their hybrids (F1, F2 and backcrosses). Most crowing patterns were intermediate to those of the parental species; some were similar to one or the other parental species, or not present in either parental species. I also observed vocal changes in hybrid crows during the breeding season and from one year to the other. This vocal variability resembles those observed during the ontogeny of the crow in quails. It is likely that similar mechanisms involved in vocal changes during ontogeny might have driven vocal divergence in the species of Palearctic quails. I suggest that hybrid crows might have resembled those produced by intermediary forms of quails during speciation.
The ‘social intelligence hypothesis’ was originally conceived to explain how primates may have evolved their superior intellect and large brains when compared with other animals. Although some birds such as corvids may be intellectually comparable to apes, the same relationship between sociality and brain size seen in primates has not been found for birds, possibly suggesting a role for other non-social factors. But bird sociality is different from primate sociality. Most monkeys and apes form stable groups, whereas most birds are monogamous, and only form large flocks outside of the breeding season. Some birds form lifelong pair bonds and these species tend to have the largest brains relative to body size. Some of these species are known for their intellectual abilities (e.g. corvids and parrots), while others are not (e.g. geese and albatrosses). Although socio-ecological factors may explain some of the differences in brain size and intelligence between corvids/parrots and geese/albatrosses, we predict that the type and quality of the bonded relationship is also critical. Indeed, we present empirical evidence that rook and jackdaw partnerships resemble primate and dolphin alliances. Although social interactions within a pair may seem simple on the surface, we argue that cognition may play an important role in the maintenance of long-term relationships, something we name as ‘relationship intelligence’.
avian brain; jackdaw; monogamy; pair bonding; rook; social intelligence