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Concept: Bird


Two rival theories of how humans recognize faces exist: (i) recognition is innate, relying on specialized neocortical circuitry, and (ii) recognition is a learned expertise, relying on general object recognition pathways. Here, we explore whether animals without a neocortex, can learn to recognize human faces. Human facial recognition has previously been demonstrated for birds, however they are now known to possess neocortex-like structures. Also, with much of the work done in domesticated pigeons, one cannot rule out the possibility that they have developed adaptations for human face recognition. Fish do not appear to possess neocortex-like cells, and given their lack of direct exposure to humans, are unlikely to have evolved any specialized capabilities for human facial recognition. Using a two-alternative forced-choice procedure, we show that archerfish (Toxotes chatareus) can learn to discriminate a large number of human face images (Experiment 1, 44 faces), even after controlling for colour, head-shape and brightness (Experiment 2, 18 faces). This study not only demonstrates that archerfish have impressive pattern discrimination abilities, but also provides evidence that a vertebrate lacking a neocortex and without an evolutionary prerogative to discriminate human faces, can nonetheless do so to a high degree of accuracy.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Bird, Science, Mammal, Primate, Learning, Face perception


Birds still share many traits with their dinosaur ancestors, making them the best living group to reconstruct certain aspects of non-avian theropod biology. Bipedal, digitigrade locomotion and parasagittal hindlimb movement are some of those inherited traits. Living birds, however, maintain an unusually crouched hindlimb posture and locomotion powered by knee flexion, in contrast to the inferred primitive condition of non-avian theropods: more upright posture and limb movement powered by femur retraction. Such functional differences, which are associated with a gradual, anterior shift of the centre of mass in theropods along the bird line, make the use of extant birds to study non-avian theropod locomotion problematic. Here we show that, by experimentally manipulating the location of the centre of mass in living birds, it is possible to recreate limb posture and kinematics inferred for extinct bipedal dinosaurs. Chickens raised wearing artificial tails, and consequently with more posteriorly located centre of mass, showed a more vertical orientation of the femur during standing and increased femoral displacement during locomotion. Our results support the hypothesis that gradual changes in the location of the centre of mass resulted in more crouched hindlimb postures and a shift from hip-driven to knee-driven limb movements through theropod evolution. This study suggests that, through careful experimental manipulations during the growth phase of ontogeny, extant birds can potentially be used to gain important insights into previously unexplored aspects of bipedal non-avian theropod locomotion.

Concepts: Bird, Knee, Extinction, Locomotion, Dinosaur, Theropoda, Bipedalism, Archosaur


Some birds achieve primate-like levels of cognition, even though their brains tend to be much smaller in absolute size. This poses a fundamental problem in comparative and computational neuroscience, because small brains are expected to have a lower information-processing capacity. Using the isotropic fractionator to determine numbers of neurons in specific brain regions, here we show that the brains of parrots and songbirds contain on average twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass, indicating that avian brains have higher neuron packing densities than mammalian brains. Additionally, corvids and parrots have much higher proportions of brain neurons located in the pallial telencephalon compared with primates or other mammals and birds. Thus, large-brained parrots and corvids have forebrain neuron counts equal to or greater than primates with much larger brains. We suggest that the large numbers of neurons concentrated in high densities in the telencephalon substantially contribute to the neural basis of avian intelligence.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Human brain, Bird, Cerebrum, Mammal, Computational neuroscience


Relationships between non-avian theropod dinosaurs and extant and fossil birds are a major focus of current paleobiological research. Despite extensive phylogenetic and morphological support, behavioural evidence is mostly ambiguous and does not usually fossilize. Thus, inferences that dinosaurs, especially theropods displayed behaviour analogous to modern birds are intriguing but speculative. Here we present extensive and geographically widespread physical evidence of substrate scraping behavior by large theropods considered as compelling evidence of “display arenas” or leks, and consistent with “nest scrape display” behaviour among many extant ground-nesting birds. Large scrapes, up to 2 m in diameter, occur abundantly at several Cretaceous sites in Colorado. They constitute a previously unknown category of large dinosaurian trace fossil, inferred to fill gaps in our understanding of early phases in the breeding cycle of theropods. The trace makers were probably lekking species that were seasonally active at large display arena sites. Such scrapes indicate stereotypical avian behaviour hitherto unknown among Cretaceous theropods, and most likely associated with terrirorial activity in the breeding season. The scrapes most probably occur near nesting colonies, as yet unknown or no longer preserved in the immediate study areas. Thus, they provide clues to paleoenvironments where such nesting sites occurred.

Concepts: Bird, Reptile, Fossil, Dinosaur, Saurischia, Theropoda, Maniraptora, Avialae


The migratory patterns of animals are changing in response to global environmental change with many species forming resident populations in areas where they were once migratory. The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) was wholly migratory in Europe but recently guaranteed, year-round food from landfill sites has facilitated the establishment of resident populations in Iberia. In this study 17 resident white storks were fitted with GPS/GSM data loggers (including accelerometer) and tracked for 9.1 ± 3.7 months to quantify the extent and consistency of landfill attendance by individuals during the non-breeding and breeding seasons and to assess the influence of landfill use on daily distances travelled, percentage of GPS fixes spent foraging and non-landfill foraging ranges.

Concepts: Bird, Stork, White Stork, Ciconia, Pfeilstorch, Black Stork, Mycteria, Storks


Domestic chickens are members of an order, Aves, which has been the focus of a revolution in our understanding of neuroanatomical, cognitive, and social complexity. At least some birds are now known to be on par with many mammals in terms of their level of intelligence, emotional sophistication, and social interaction. Yet, views of chickens have largely remained unrevised by this new evidence. In this paper, I examine the peer-reviewed scientific data on the leading edge of cognition, emotions, personality, and sociality in chickens, exploring such areas as self-awareness, cognitive bias, social learning and self-control, and comparing their abilities in these areas with other birds and other vertebrates, particularly mammals. My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas, and that there is a need for further noninvasive comparative behavioral research with chickens as well as a re-framing of current views about their intelligence.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Sociology, Bird, Cognition, Chicken, Knowledge, Emotion


Live birth has evolved many times independently in vertebrates, such as mammals and diverse groups of lizards and snakes. However, live birth is unknown in the major clade Archosauromorpha, a group that first evolved some 260 million years ago and is represented today by birds and crocodilians. Here we report the discovery of a pregnant long-necked marine reptile (Dinocephalosaurus) from the Middle Triassic (∼245 million years ago) of southwest China showing live birth in archosauromorphs. Our discovery pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the clade by roughly 50 million years, and shows that there is no fundamental reason that archosauromorphs could not achieve live birth. Our phylogenetic models indicate that Dinocephalosaurus determined the sex of their offspring by sex chromosomes rather than by environmental temperature like crocodilians. Our results provide crucial evidence for genotypic sex determination facilitating land-water transitions in amniotes.

Concepts: Biology, Bird, Reptile, Mammal, Dinosaur, Amniote, Archosauromorpha, Prolacertiformes


Returning to the shore after a feeding sojourn at sea, king penguins often undertake a relatively long terrestrial journey to the breeding colony carrying a heavy, mostly frontal, accumulation of fat along with food in the stomach for chick-provisioning. There they must survive a fasting period of up to a month in duration, during which their complete reliance on endogenous energy stores results in a dramatic loss in body mass. Our aim was to determine if the king penguin’s walking gait changes with variations in body mass. We investigated this by walking king penguins on a treadmill while instrumented with an acceleration data logger. The stride frequency, dynamic body acceleration (DBA) and posture of fat (pre-fasting; 13.2 kg) and slim (post fasting; 11 kg) king penguins were assessed while they walked at the same speed (1.4km/h) on a treadmill. Paired statistical tests indicated no evidence for a difference in dynamic body acceleration or stride frequency between the two body masses however there was substantially less variability in both leaning angle and the leaning amplitude of the body when the birds were slimmer. Furthermore, there was some evidence that the slimmer birds exhibited a decrease in waddling amplitude. We suggest the increase in variability of both leaning angle and amplitude, as well as a possibly greater variability in the waddling amplitude, is likely to result from the frontal fat accumulation when the birds are heavier, which may move the centre of mass anteriorly, resulting in a less stable upright posture. This study is the first to use accelerometry to better understand the gait of a species within a specific ecological context: the considerable body mass change exhibited by king penguins.

Concepts: Mass, Bird, Classical mechanics, Penguin, Emperor Penguin, King Penguin, Walking, Penguins


Frogs (Anura) are one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates and comprise nearly 90% of living amphibian species. Their worldwide distribution and diverse biology make them well-suited for assessing fundamental questions in evolution, ecology, and conservation. However, despite their scientific importance, the evolutionary history and tempo of frog diversification remain poorly understood. By using a molecular dataset of unprecedented size, including 88-kb characters from 95 nuclear genes of 156 frog species, in conjunction with 20 fossil-based calibrations, our analyses result in the most strongly supported phylogeny of all major frog lineages and provide a timescale of frog evolution that suggests much younger divergence times than suggested by earlier studies. Unexpectedly, our divergence-time analyses show that three species-rich clades (Hyloidea, Microhylidae, and Natatanura), which together comprise ∼88% of extant anuran species, simultaneously underwent rapid diversification at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary (KPB). Moreover, anuran families and subfamilies containing arboreal species originated near or after the KPB. These results suggest that the K-Pg mass extinction may have triggered explosive radiations of frogs by creating new ecological opportunities. This phylogeny also reveals relationships such as Microhylidae being sister to all other ranoid frogs and African continental lineages of Natatanura forming a clade that is sister to a clade of Eurasian, Indian, Melanesian, and Malagasy lineages. Biogeographical analyses suggest that the ancestral area of modern frogs was Africa, and their current distribution is largely associated with the breakup of Pangaea and subsequent Gondwanan fragmentation.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Bird, Extinction, Amphibian, Frog


Late Cretaceous terrestrial strata of the Neuquén Basin, northern Patagonia, Argentina have yielded a rich fauna of dinosaurs and other vertebrates. The diversity of saurischian dinosaurs is particularly high, especially in the late Cenomanian-early Turonian Huincul Formation, which has yielded specimens of rebacchisaurid and titanosaurian sauropods, and abelisaurid and carcharodontosaurid theropods. Continued sampling is adding to the known vertebrate diversity of this unit.

Concepts: Bird, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Saurischia, Theropoda, Ceratosauria, Late Cretaceous, Carnosauria