DINOSAUR COGNITION - reconstructing the cradle of the avian mind

Project: Research

Project Details

Layman's description

This project's aim is to deliver the first-ever reconstructions of the evolution of cognition in the dinosaur lineage that led to birds, by comparing the dinosaurs’ two closest-related living taxa: avians and crocodilians. In addition to this, the results will be a stepping-stone toward under-standing the later evolution of cognition in birds.
The project compares so-called underlying cognitive mechanisms in the two extant animal groups that share an extinct dinosaur (saurischian) lineage between them. These are the most basal living birds – the palaeognaths – and the closest living relatives of birds: the crocodilians. The cognitive abilities of both groups have received very little, if any, attention.
Two main hypotheses are tested in the project. It investigates (1) whether there is a general increase in cognitive performance in the lineage leading to birds, as well as (2) whether higher neuronal numbers in the pallium increase cognitive performance. If these hypotheses are correct, birds should show significant differences to crocodilians, and the birds with the largest brains (in absolute size) should stand out. The alternative to this is that specific adaptations to certain ecologies play a major role. Put simply, we will learn what changes in underlying cognitive mechanism occurred from the dinosaur ancestor to the early birds.
Combining these results with findings from research in other fields will considerably increase our understanding about one of the most captivating periods of the history of animals. As a matter of fact, the evolutionary history of cognition is essentially uncharted.
Effective start/end date2017/01/012020/12/31