Brain contrasts between migratory and nonmigratory North American lark sparrows (Chondestes grammacus)

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The impact of evolving migratory behavior on brain organization in birds has been a foundational question in the emerging field of neuroecology. One generalization that seems to be approaching consensus is that migratory species/populations have smaller brain volumes than their nonmigratory comparison groups. The lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is a North American species characterized by migratory and nonmigratory populations. Consistent with what has been observed in other species/population comparisons, we found that, relative to body weight, migratory females from Nebraska have smaller brain volumes than nonmigratory females from Texas. We also carried out an exploratory, higher-order analysis of possible differences in the volumes of a number of telencephalic subdivisions. Although our small sample size precluded statistical verification of any difference, noteworthy was that, although there seemed to be no indication of a difference in the relative hippocampal volume between the two populations, the migratory birds from Nebraska showed a clear trend toward a smaller nidopallium. The importance of higher-resolution, brain subdivisional analyses has been discussed.

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