Honors Projects


Much research has been conducted on brain evolution within Dinosauria. Dinosaurs were originally believed to be incapable of any advanced cognitive abilities beyond the level observed in modern reptiles. This is likely true for many dinosaurs, but recent discoveries suggest that the non-avian maniraptor dinosaurs shared many physical characteristics with their bird descendants, including body feathers and neural adaptations for flight. By studying cranial endocasts (the braincase of fossilized skulls) using computed tomography (CT), paleontologists are beginning to understand the neural changes that took place across the dinosaur-bird transition. Most of these studies are focused on the development of flight, but some modern birds display signs of cognitive behaviors that rival non-human primates. These include, but are not limited to, social cognition and learning, problem solving, and tool use. This study is focused on the variation in endocast shape among 13 species of modern birds across 10 orders. The goal is to establish patterns in the endocast shape associated with the bird’s level of social cognition and overall behavioral complexity. The specimens were obtained from a wildlife nursery, representing birds that died during the southern migration in autumn 2015. Their heads were CT scanned at Ohio University in Dr. Larry Witmer’s lab, and a statistical method called geometric morphometrics was used to analyze the changes in shape around the forebrain. Qualitative analysis suggests that non-avian maniraptor endocasts resemble the endocasts of water fowl, as opposed to birds of prey or corvids. These patterns may be applicable to non-avian maniraptors.




Geology: Paleobiology

First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Yacobucci

First Advisor Department


Second Advisor

Dr. Verner Bingman

Second Advisor Department


Third Advisor

Saritdikhun Somasa

Third Advisor Department

School of Art

Publication Date

Spring 5-2-2016