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Genome. 2009 Mar;52(3):261-7. doi: 10.1139/G09-003.

Genome size is inversely correlated with relative brain size in parrots and cockatoos.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G2W1, Canada.


Genome size (haploid nuclear DNA content) has been found to correlate positively with cell size and negatively with cell division rate in a variety of taxa. These cytological relationships manifest in various ways at the organism level, for example, in terms of body size, metabolic rate, or developmental rate, depending on the biology of the organisms. In birds, it has been suggested that high metabolic rate and strong flight ability are linked to small genome size. However, it was also hypothesized that the exceptional cognitive abilities of birds may impose additional constraints on genome size through effects on neuron size and differentiation, as has been observed in amphibians. To test this hypothesis, a comparative analysis was made between genome size, cell (erythrocyte) size, and brain size in 54 species of parrots and cockatoos (order Psittaciformes, family Psittacidae). Relative brain volume, which is taken as an indicator of investment in brain tissue and is widely correlated with behavioural and ecological traits, was found to correlate inversely with genome size. Several possible and mutually compatible explanations for this relationship are described.

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