, Volume 192, Issue 12, pp 1313-1326
Date: 30 Aug 2006

The evolution of stereopsis and the Wulst in caprimulgiform birds: a comparative analysis

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Abstract

Owls possess stereopsis (i.e., the ability to perceive depth from retinal disparity cues), but its distribution amongst other birds has remained largely unexplored. Here, we present data on species variation in brain and telencephalon size and features of the Wulst, the neuroanatomical substrate that subserves stereopsis, in a putative sister-group to owls, the order Caprimulgiformes. The caprimulgiforms we examined included nightjars (Caprimulgidae), owlet-nightjars (Aegothelidae), potoos (Nyctibiidae), frogmouths (Podargidae) and the Oilbird (Steatornithidae). The owlet-nightjars and frogmouths shared almost identical relative brain, telencephalic and Wulst volumes as well as overall brain morphology and Wulst morphology with owls. Specifically, the owls, frogmouths and owlet-nightjars possess relatively large brains and telencephalic and Wulst volumes, had a characteristic brain shape and displayed prominent laminae in the Wulst. In contrast, potoos and nightjars both had relatively small brains and telencephala, and Wulst volumes that are typical for similarly sized birds from other orders. The Oilbird had a large brain, telencephalon and Wulst, although these measures were not quite as large as those of the owls. This gradation of owl-like versus nightjar-like brains within caprimulgiforms has significant implications for understanding the evolution of stereopsis and the Wulst both within the order and birds in general.