The olfactory bulb (OB) ratio is the size of the OB relative to the cerebral hemisphere, and is used to estimate the proportion of the forebrain devoted to smell. In birds, OB ratio correlates with the number of olfactory receptor (OR) genes and therefore has been used as a proxy for olfactory acuity. By coupling OB ratios with known OR gene repertoires in birds, we infer minimum repertoire sizes for extinct taxa, including non-avian dinosaurs, using phylogenetic modelling, ancestral state reconstruction and comparative genomics. We highlight a shift in the scaling of OB ratio to body size along the lineage leading to modern birds, demonstrating variable OR repertoires present in different dinosaur and crown-bird lineages, with varying factors potentially influencing sensory evolution in theropods. We investigate the ancestral sensory space available to extinct taxa, highlighting potential adaptations to ecological niches. Through combining morphological and genomic data, we show that, while genetic information for extinct taxa is forever lost, it is potentially feasible to investigate evolutionary trajectories in extinct genomes.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4521788