They then compared this to two brains from Tasmanian devils - one of which was a similar age to the thylacine brains, the other from a recently deceased animal - to see what they could infer about the behavior of each animal from the architecture of its brain."When you look at the cerebral cortex of any mammal there's areas to do with decision making and planning, there's areas to do with motor function, there's areas to do with sense of touch, vision," Professor Ashwell said.
"Depending on the relative size of those you can draw conclusions about behavioral repertoire."
The study found thylacines had more of their cortex devoted to "complex cognition" activities associated with being a hunting animal - like planning actions and making decisions.
That accords with observations made of Tasmanian tigers before they became extinct and features of their anatomy.
Meanwhile, the smaller frontal area of the brains of the Tasmanian devils suggested less of their brain is committed to complex decision making - which was broadly in line with what is known about the carnivorous devil as a scavenger.
The research was also consistent with theories of brain evolution that suggest that brains became more modularized as they became larger, wrote the researchers. Professor Ashwell said the key to the research was demonstrating that their brain imaging techniques could be applied to extinct animals.
He said the combination of MRI and diffusion tensor imaging means that scanning animal brains years after they have died is possible if they are properly preserved.
Professor Ashwell said that could help scientists better understand how the brains of mammals and marsupials evolved.
"We can determine how their cerebral cortex is organised, how their connection to deeper brain structure is organised," he said.
The data from the research will be added to digital archive of animal brains called Brain Ark founded by the study's co-author Dr Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University.
Article first appeared on ABC Science.
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