Correlations between form, function and behaviour: the inner ears of birds and reptiles

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Earth Sciences

Abstract

The vertebrate inner ear is a complex structure that incorporates the organs of balance and hearing. Both senses are essential to the normal functioning of an organism: unsurprisingly, the inner ears of living vertebrates have been studied intensively in terms of their soft anatomy and their physiological/neurological mechanisms, and the behavioural and general biological implications of ear function have been investigated thoroughly. The soft tissues are housed in bony structures that form part of the side walls of the braincase at the back of the skull. Few studies have attempted to seek correlations between the properties of the bony structures (e.g. volume, maximum length/width, shape), hearing ability or sense of balance, and the resulting behavioural repertoire of an animal. From a palaeontologist's perspective, this is an unfortunate omission as, in most cases, fossils only yield information on the hard anatomy of an organism. Partly as a result of this situation, the inner ears of many extinct vertebrates have received little attention hitherto and detailed studies have only become possible recently with the advent of non-destructive imaging technology. We propose a proof-of-concept study to investigate the utility of inner ear morphology in assessing the behaviour and auditory performance of extinct reptiles and birds. We will test whether differences in reptile/bird inner ear anatomy can be explained by differences in behaviour, vocalisation, acoustic function and social organisation. This test will be based upon an analysis of the inner ear anatomy of 40 living reptiles and birds, which will be chosen to represent a wide range of vocal and auditory behaviours. Data on inner ear anatomy will be collected using X-ray Computerised Tomography (CT), which will allow us to build detailed 3-D virtual models of the ear's bony structures. Correlations will be sought between the dimensions of the lagena (that part of the inner ear housing the organ of hearing / the basilar papilla), the known auditory abilities of an animal (e.g. range of sound frequencies detectable, sensitivity), and the range of behaviours that the animal exhibits (e.g. those that use vocal communication versus those that do not). Combination of these different data sources (inner ear bony anatomy, ear function and animal behaviour) is a novel approach and will provide a rigorous basis for inferring behaviour in extinct animals. If no correlations exist between ear anatomy, hearing ability and behaviour this will allow us to falsify existing hypotheses of hearing function in extinct reptiles and birds. However, if correlations are identified this project will act as a pilot study for future investigations on hearing and behaviour in a variety of extinct species (including non-avian dinosaurs and early amniotes, for example). In addition, the project will provide a large amount of new anatomical information on the inner ears of living reptiles and birds, which will be of great value to auditory biologists, zoologists and systematists.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project was able to demonstrate that it is possible to estimate the hearing capability of fossil reptiles and birds using relatively simple measurements of their inner ear structures. A survey of living birds and reptiles using CT data to examine inner ear structures, showed strong statistically significant correlations between bony anatomy and key sensory measures, such as hearing range. This enabled development of a model that allowed prediction of hearing ranges in extinct birds and reptiles, offering new, rigorous insights into the reconstruction of sensory biology in deep time.
Exploitation Route The primary use of this work is academic - it will enable palaeobiologists to examine the behaviour and sensory biology of extinct animals in a much more testable and rigorous way than previously. This work has already had impact beyond the academic community, however, as it was used to estimate the hearing ability of the earliest bird, Archaeopteryx, in a major touring exhibition.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Our findings have already been used by academic peers and the paper has now been cited on 43 occasions. In addition, work arising was incorporated into a major temporary exhibition at the Natural History Museum (Age of the Dinosaur), which has gone on to tour in a number of other UK venues. The data collected also contributed to another NERC project on the evolution of bird brain anatomy and a review of the use of CT-scanning in palaeobiology.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation American Museum of Natural History
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Canterbury Museum
Country New Zealand 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Centre for Research in Earth Sciences (CICTERRA)
Country Argentina 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Duke University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Harvard University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Natural History Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Ohio State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Oklahoma State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Stony Brook University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation University of Copenhagen
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation University of Lethbridge
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation University of San Diego
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation University of Texas at Austin
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Deeper Look into the Avian Brain: Using Modern Imaging to Unlock Ancient Endocasts 
Organisation Yale University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh is an invited scientist at a Catalysis meeting involving the main researchers working on avian brain evolution and comparative neurology, funded by The United States National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The meeting will be held between May 12th and 16th, and is intended to share data and approaches with a view to shaping the future of avian palaeoneurology.
Collaborator Contribution Data, expertise, analysis.
Impact None to date - dedicated volume of Journal of Anatomy planned for 2015 (MSS submission January 2015), which will include two papers stemming from NE/H012176/1. Second project co-led by Walsh and Bever (AMNH) will test methods used in micro-CT analysis of brain cavity endocasts to find best practice. This project is underway.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation Canterbury Museum
Country New Zealand 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation National Science Foundation (NSF)
Department National Evolutionary Synthesis Center
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation Natural History Museum of Basel
Country Switzerland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation University of Copenhagen
Department Natural History Museum of Denmark
Country Denmark 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation University of Texas
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation University of Texas at Austin
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Charadriiform brain evolution 
Organisation University of Tokyo
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Brain cavity endocast data generated from NE/H012176/1 is being used as part of a wide international collaboration investigating brain form in the diverse avian clade Charadriiformes.
Collaborator Contribution Extra micro-CT and brain cavity endocast data; analysis.
Impact None so far: deaddline for MS in special volume January 15th, 2015.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Combining comparative data from avian and mammal CT datasets 
Organisation Lourinhã Museum
Department Gulbenkian Institute of Science
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Walsh was invited to collaborate on a project that uses Walsh's approaches on fossil cynodonts (extinct mammal relatives). Endocasts generated as part of NE/H012176/1 have been sent as part of this collaboration in STL format.
Collaborator Contribution Data collection and analysis.
Impact So far one conference proceeding abstract (see publications). Collaboration is multidisciplinary (avian palaeontology and palaeoneurology; mammal palaeontology and palaeoneurology and evolutionary and developmental biology).
Start Year 2013
 
Description Determing bird flight capability from brain endocasts 
Organisation National Museums Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Data collected during this grant has been contributed to a new project to assess whether it is possible to determine flight ability in birds on the basis of flocculus size. This work has now led to a multi-authored manuscript that is currently being considered for publication.
Collaborator Contribution Additional data and analysis of the data
Impact This collaboration resulted in the following paper: Walsh, S. A., Iwaniuk, A. N., Knoll, M. A., Bourdon, E., Barrett, P. M., Milner, A. C., Nudds, R. L., Abel, R. L. & Dello Sterpiao, P. 2013. The avian cerebellar floccular fossa as a proxy for flying ability in extinct birds. PLoS ONE 8(6):e67176 (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067176)
Start Year 2012
 
Description Review of use of CT in work on sensory evolution 
Organisation National Museums Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This work led to a new collaboration reviewing the use of CT data from fossils in reconstructing the sensory abilities of extinct taxa. A MS has been submitted for publication.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Ricardo Araujo (2017-) 
Organisation University of Montpellier
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our CT scan data on reptiles and birds is being reused for a new broad scale project on ear evolution in amniotes. We are also providing expert input on reptile ear anatomy.
Collaborator Contribution They are providing additional scan data and are also performing many of the statistical analuses on the dataset.
Impact Paper in preparation.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Roger Benson 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Sharing of the micro-CT dataset generated as part of the original NERC project. Data have been analysed by a final year project student and will be published.
Collaborator Contribution Authorship.
Impact Manuscript is preparation.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Dorset Naturalists Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on the advances in dinosaur biology drawing on NERC work related to dinosaur hearing and breathing. Around 200 people in the audience, comprising members of the general public. Numerous questions followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Student Talk (UCL) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Talk on the evolution of archosaur respiration to UCLs LERN centre. Around 30 students attended, with numerous questions afterward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Ulster Museum talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk on advances in dinosaur biology drawing on advances from NERC projects on dinosaur hearing and breathing. Lengthy discussion followed, with impact on museum and educational professionals attempting to communicate science in museums.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description World Museum Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk on advances in dinosaur biology drawing on NERC funded projects on hearing and respiration. Numerous questions from both the public and professionals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011