The neural circuit that underlies intelligence in birds would have been identified by Canadian neuroscientists who believe that their discovery is an example of the converging evolution between the brains of birds and that of apes.
Researcher Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez and his colleagues at the University of Alberta believe that their work could also help to better understand the neural basis of human intelligence.
“A region of the brain called the pedunculopontin nucleus plays a central role in primate intelligence,” says Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez.
This structure transfers information between two important regions of the brain, the cortex and the cerebellum, allowing rapid information processing and more advanced behavior.
In humans and primates, pedunculopontine nuclei are larger than other mammals. This is logical given our cognitive abilities.
The birds also have pedunculopontine nuclei, but they are very small.
On the other hand, they have a similar structure called internal spiral core (NSI).
Located in another part of the brain, the nucleus has the same utility as pedunculopontins, that is, it circulates information between the cortex and the cerebellum of birds.
This loop between the cortex and the cerebellum is important for the planning and execution of more advanced behaviors. (sophisticated behaviors)
Doug Wylie, University of Alberta
Far from having a bird’s brain
The authors of the study studied the brains of a sample of 98 species of birds ranging from owls to parrots. Their goal was to compare the size of their NSI with the rest of their brain. They were able to determine that the parrot had a much larger NSI than other birds.
It is actually two to five times larger in parrots than in other birds, such as chickens.
“Independently, parrots have developed an enlarged area connecting the cortex and the cerebellum similar to that of primates. This is another fascinating example of convergence between parrots and primates, “says researcher Cristian Gutierrez-Ibanez.
This explains more sophisticated behaviors, such as the use of tools and self-awareness.
The authors, whose work is published in Scientific Reports , now want to deepen their study of the parrot brain to better understand the type of information it can handle.
“It could help us better understand how our human brains work,” concludes Gutierrez-Ibanez