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PeerJ. 2015 Jun 11;3:e1000. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1000. eCollection 2015.

Can endocranial volume be estimated accurately from external skull measurements in great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus)?

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SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California Santa Barbara , Santa Barbara, CA , USA ; Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge , Cambridge , UK.
College of Creative Studies, University of California Santa Barbara , Santa Barbara, CA , USA.


There is an increasing need to validate and collect data approximating brain size on individuals in the field to understand what evolutionary factors drive brain size variation within and across species. We investigated whether we could accurately estimate endocranial volume (a proxy for brain size), as measured by computerized tomography (CT) scans, using external skull measurements and/or by filling skulls with beads and pouring them out into a graduated cylinder for male and female great-tailed grackles. We found that while females had higher correlations than males, estimations of endocranial volume from external skull measurements or beads did not tightly correlate with CT volumes. We found no accuracy in the ability of external skull measures to predict CT volumes because the prediction intervals for most data points overlapped extensively. We conclude that we are unable to detect individual differences in endocranial volume using external skull measurements. These results emphasize the importance of validating and explicitly quantifying the predictive accuracy of brain size proxies for each species and each sex.


Bead method; Bird; Endocranial volume; Great-tailed grackle; Quiscalus mexicanus; Skull measurements

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