Ever wondered, how are dolphins incredibly intelligent social animals? In a first, neuroscientists have mapped the sensory and motor systems in the brains of dolphins.
The Emory University study shows that at least two areas of the dolphin brain are associated with the auditory system, unlike most mammals that primarily process sound in a single area.
Researcher Gregory Berns said that they now have the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all of the white matter connections inside of it.
The study focused on the dolphin auditory system, since dolphins – along with several other animals, such as bats – use echolocation to sense their environments.
Berns said that they found that there were probably multiple areas in the dolphin brain associated with auditory information, and the neural pathways look similar to those of a bat.
He added that this was surprising because dolphins and bats are far apart on the evolutionary tree, they diverged tens of millions of years ago but their brains may have evolved similar mechanisms for using sound not just to hear, but to also create mental images.
The researchers hope that their map of dolphin neural circuitry will help unlock secrets of the dolphin mind, including how they communicate and perceive their environment.
Berns said that their study was the first to use this DTI technique on a dolphin brain, and on a specimen that was more than a decade old.
He added that their success opens up the possibility of using this tool to study the archived brains of all sorts of amazing animals in museum collections around the world.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.