Brain sizes and brain component sizes of five domesticated pigeon breeds including homing (racing) pigeons are compared with rock doves (Columba livia) based on an allometric approach to test the influence of domestication on brain and brain component size. Net brain volume, the volumes of cerebellum and telencephalon as a whole are significantly smaller in almost all domestic pigeons. Inside the telencephalon, mesopallium, nidopallium (+ entopallium + arcopallium) and septum are smaller as well. The hippocampus is significantly larger, particularly in homing pigeons. This finding is in contrast to the predictions of the 'regression hypothesis' of brain alteration under domestication. Among the domestic pigeons homing pigeons have significantly larger olfactory bulbs. These data are interpreted as representing a functional adaptation to homing that is based on spatial cognition and sensory integration. We argue that domestication as seen in domestic pigeons is not principally different from evolution in the wild, but represents a heuristic model to understand the evolutionary process in terms of adaptation and optimization.
Copyright 2007 S. Karger AG, Basel.