Big Brains? The Better to Smell You With!

One way mammals are different from most animals is their large brains, in relation to the rest of the body. A new study says that the larger brains were developed for the sense of smell. CT scans of 190-million-year-old mammal fossils indicate that much of the the brain growth was in the area dedicated to the sense of smell.
"We studied the outside features of these fossils for years," said Tim Rowe, professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences and director of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin, and lead author of the new study. "But until now, studying the brains meant destroying the fossils. With CT technology, we can have our cake and eat it, too."

According to the study, other factors leading to larger brains in early mammals included greater tactile sensitivity and enhanced motor coordination. Fossils of some of the earliest mammals, such as Hadrocodium, bore full coats of fur, explaining the need for enhanced tactile sensitivity.

Researchers scanned a dozen early mammal fossil and more than 200 current species over ten years for this study. Link -via Geeks Are Sexy

(Image credit: Matt Colbert)

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Perhaps to some extent, though it is unclear how the olfactory system led to the kind of architecture we see in the frontal lobes of primates, dolphins and dogs. It seems reasonable to speculate that if increased olfactory sensation leads to incresed neuronal mass handling olfaction then the causative correlate of large frontal tissue would be the need for more predictive power.
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