Brains ‘primed’ for life on land

There’s been a small flurry of media activity this week about our recent paper on the brains and jaw muscles of some salamanders and lobe-finned fish (my favourites, remember). The original paper was published by the journal Royal Society Open Science and co-authored by myself with Tom Challands (University of Edinburgh) and Jason Pardo (University of Calgary).

The paper, “Mandibular musculature constrains brain–endocast disparity between sarcopterygians”, looked at the size and shape of the brains in the axolotl (Ambystoma), the fire belly newt (Cynops), lungfish (Neoceratodus and Protopterus) and the coelacanth (Latimeria).

We studied this to provide insight into what the brains of the first ‘tetrapods’ (the first fish that crawled onto land millions of years ago are relatives of the lobe-finned fishes) might have looked like. Living lungfish and amphibians such as salamanders are the closest extant (living) relatives of those first fossil tetrapods.

We found that lungfish and salamanders have brains that are actually quite large and fill their skulls to a much higher degree compared to the coelacanth. Furthermore, it seems that there might be an interplay between the skull architecture and size of the jaw muscles and the overall size or “fullness” of the brain in these animals.

You can read more about it here from:

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