Washington, Feb 3 (ANI): A new study has suggested that birds survived the global catastrophe that wiped out their dinosaur relatives due to superior brainpower.
According to a report in National Geographic News, researchers from the Natural History Museum in London, who carried out the study, said that the idea came from examining a pair of prehistoric seabirds found in southeast England by Victorian-era fossil hunters.
The two 55-million-year-old skulls suggest the ancestors of modern birds developed larger, more complex brains earlier than previously thought.
"This implies that bird ancestors had a mental edge over non-birdlike dinos and flying reptiles, so they were better able to adapt after the so-called K-T mass extinction event around 65 million years ago," said study co-author Angela Milner.
Some ancient groups of birds did go extinct, she noted, so it wasn't feathers or warm-bloodedness that gave modern birds a leg up.
"It had to be something else, and it seems to be this bigger brain," said Milner.
The study was based on two specimens from the Natural History Museum's vast fossil collection.
While Odontopteryx toliapica belonged to an extinct group of giant, bony-toothed seabirds, Prophaethon shrubsolei was a prehistoric relative of tern-like tropical seabirds.
Milner and colleagues used CT scans of the skulls to make models of the size and shape of the fossil birds' brains.
What they found is that the ancient bird brains were almost the same size as those in birds alive today. The older noggins also showed early growth of a brain region known as the wulst.
"It seems to be the area that's involved in more complex behavior and cognition, such as being able to learn about your environment and remember it," Milner said.
"So after the K-T event, these birds were just better equipped to deal with challenging physical conditions," she added.
According to Milner, the brain advances seen in the 55 million-year-old birds would probably have begun more than 65 million years ago.
Fossils of the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx, which lived 147 million years ago, reveal its brain was "nowhere near as well developed as the ones we looked at," she said.
As well as providing valuable new evidence for the evolution of birds, the latest study offers an intriguing new theory that will motivate paleontologists to look harder and farther to find more fossils. (ANI)