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Paleoneurology of stem palaeognaths clarifies the plesiomorphic condition of the crown bird central nervous system.

  • Widrig, Klara E
  • Navalón, Guillermo
  • Field, Daniel J
Publication Date
May 03, 2024
Apollo - University of Cambridge Repository
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Lithornithidae, an assemblage of volant Palaeogene fossil birds, provide our clearest insights into the early evolutionary history of Palaeognathae, the clade that today includes the flightless ratites and volant tinamous. The neotype specimen of Lithornis vulturinus, from the early Eocene (approximately 53 million years ago) of Europe, includes a partial neurocranium that has never been thoroughly investigated. Here, we describe these cranial remains including the nearly complete digital endocasts of the brain and bony labyrinth. The telencephalon of Lithornis is expanded and its optic lobes are ventrally shifted, as is typical for crown birds. The foramen magnum is positioned caudally, rather than flexed ventrally as in some crown birds, with the optic lobes, cerebellum, and foramen magnum shifted further ventrally. The overall brain shape is similar to that of tinamous, the only extant clade of flying palaeognaths, suggesting that several aspects of tinamou neuroanatomy may have been evolutionarily conserved since at least the early Cenozoic. The estimated ratio of the optic lobe's surface area relative to the total brain suggests a diurnal ecology. Lithornis may provide the clearest insights to date into the neuroanatomy of the ancestral crown bird, combining an ancestrally unflexed brain with a caudally oriented connection with the spinal cord, a moderately enlarged telencephalon, and ventrally shifted, enlarged optic lobes. / MR/X015130/1

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