Applications of Micro-CT for Avian Studies

Micro-CT’s  non-destructive, high resolution 3D imaging makes it one of the most important tools for morphological avian research as well as biomimetic studies. One area of research focuses on understanding evolutionary change, in particular in studies of that most ecologically adaptable avian feature, the beak. Other research is directed towards the immense challenges of morphological characterization of the nearly 11,000 species of living birds with a vast spectrum of sizes, shapes, and colors. Studies of avian bone shape and the material properties of bone tissue are also important in understanding the evolution of flight and inspire biomimicry research.

Micro-CT of the head structure of Melanerpes Aurifrons Golden-fronted Woodpecker. PLoS ONE, Liu, Yuzhe, et al.

Response of Woodpecker’s Head during Pecking Process Simulated by Material Point Method

Woodpeckers can drum and drill 12,000 times a day, with peak velocity of a woodpecker’s head approximately 6–7m/s, and head deceleration more than 1200 g on impact. A human head would sustain significant brain damage but woodpeckers’ heads do not. “This paper studies the relationship between a woodpecker head’s response to impact and the hyoid bone. Based on micro-CT scanning images, the material point method (MPM) is employed to simulate woodpecker’s pecking process.” The study found that the hyoid bone enhances the rigidity of the head and suppresses the oscillation of the endoskeleton after impact.

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Looking deep into nature: A review of micro-computed tomography in biomimicry

This review looks into three areas of micro-CT avian studies that are useful in biomimicry. Lightweight bones and aerodynamic properties are sources of inspiration from birds and various aspects of bird bones and feathers have been studied. The mechanical properties of beaks have also been the focus of biomimetic studies for greater understaning of their strength and low mass. The shock absorbing capability of the woodpecker has been inspirational for creating better shock absorption in micro-devices.

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Structure and micro-computed tomography-based finite element modeling of Toucan beak

“Bird beaks are one of the most fascinating sandwich composites in nature. Their design is composed of a keratinous integument and a bony foam core.” Using micro-CT to examine the structure and mechanical properties of a Toucan beak, this study demonstrates how the mechanical behavior of bird beaks is governed. “Most of the mechanical loading on the beak is carried by the exterior keratin, whereas the foam increases the energy absorption and stabilizes the deformation of the beak to prevent catastrophic failure.”

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Developmental origins of mosaic evolution in the avian cranium

Mosaic evolution refers to different rates of evolutionary change in various body structures and functions within a given population of organisms. Resulting from multiple influences shaping morphological traits, mosaic evolution can lead to the presence of a mixture of ancestral and derived characteristics and can be instructive in describing evolutionary patterns in birds. In this study, researchers “combine high-resolution 3D quantification of skull shape with dense taxonomic sampling across a major vertebrate clade, birds, to demonstrate that the avian skull is formed of multiple semi-independent regions that epitomize mosaic evolution, with cranial regions and major lineages evolving with distinct rates and modes.” In conclusion, they provide a “hypothetical reconstruction of the ancestral bird skull using this high-resolution shape data to generate a detailed estimate of extinct forms in the absence of well-preserved three-dimensional fossils.”

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Related Articles:

Micro-CT Imaging of Avian Skulls

Applications of Micro-CT for Natural History Specimens

Micro-CT Applications for Archaeological Forensic Studies

Micro-CT Applications in Animal Studies

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