Flying starlings, PET and the evolution of volant dinosaurs

Maria Eugenia Leone Gold, Daniela Schulz, Michael Budassi, Paul M. Gignac, Paul Vaska, Mark A. Norell

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Birds have evolved behavioral and morphological adaptations for powered flight. Many aspects of this transition are unknown, including the neuroanatomical changes that made flight possible [1]. To understand how the avian brain drives this complex behavior, we utilized positron emission tomography (PET) scanning and the tracer 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) to document regional metabolic activity in the brain associated with a variety of locomotor behaviors. FDG studies are typically employed in rats [2] though the technology has been applied to birds [3]. We examined whole-brain function in European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), trained to fly in a wind tunnel while metabolizing the tracer. Drawing on predictions from early anatomical studies [4], we hypothesized increased metabolic activity in the Wulst and functionally related visual brain regions during flight. We found that flight behaviors correlated positively with entopallia and Wulst activity, but negatively with thalamic activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R265-R267
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 4 Apr 2016


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