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The expensive brain: A framework for explaining evolutionary changes in brain size


Isler, K; van Schaik, C P (2009). The expensive brain: A framework for explaining evolutionary changes in brain size. Journal of Human Evolution, 57(4):392-400.

Abstract

To explain variation in relative brain size among homoiothermic vertebrates, we propose the Expensive
Brain hypothesis as a unifying explanatory framework. It claims that the costs of a relatively large brainmust be met by any combination of increased total energy turnover or reduced energy allocation to another expensive function such as digestion, locomotion, or production (growth and reproduction). Focusing on the energetic costs of brain enlargement, a comparative analysis of the largest mammalian
sample assembled to date shows that an increase in brain size leads to larger neonates among all mammals and a longer period of immaturity among monotokous precocial species, but not among the polytokous altricial ones, who instead reduce their litter size. Relatively large brained mammals, altricial and precocial, also show reduced annual fertility rates as compared to their smaller brained relatives, but allomaternal energy inputs allow some cooperatively breeding altricial carnivores to produce even more offspring in a shorter time despite having a relatively large brain. Thus, the Expensive Brain framework explains why brain size is linked to life history pace in some, but not all mammalian lineages. This framework encompasses other hypotheses of energetic constraints on brain size variation and is also compatible with the Brain Malnutrition Risk hypothesis, but the absence of a mammal-wide correlation between brain size and immature period argues against the Needing-to-Learn explanation for slower development among large brained mammals.

Abstract

To explain variation in relative brain size among homoiothermic vertebrates, we propose the Expensive
Brain hypothesis as a unifying explanatory framework. It claims that the costs of a relatively large brainmust be met by any combination of increased total energy turnover or reduced energy allocation to another expensive function such as digestion, locomotion, or production (growth and reproduction). Focusing on the energetic costs of brain enlargement, a comparative analysis of the largest mammalian
sample assembled to date shows that an increase in brain size leads to larger neonates among all mammals and a longer period of immaturity among monotokous precocial species, but not among the polytokous altricial ones, who instead reduce their litter size. Relatively large brained mammals, altricial and precocial, also show reduced annual fertility rates as compared to their smaller brained relatives, but allomaternal energy inputs allow some cooperatively breeding altricial carnivores to produce even more offspring in a shorter time despite having a relatively large brain. Thus, the Expensive Brain framework explains why brain size is linked to life history pace in some, but not all mammalian lineages. This framework encompasses other hypotheses of energetic constraints on brain size variation and is also compatible with the Brain Malnutrition Risk hypothesis, but the absence of a mammal-wide correlation between brain size and immature period argues against the Needing-to-Learn explanation for slower development among large brained mammals.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:October 2009
Deposited On:18 Dec 2009 06:41
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:35
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0047-2484
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.04.009

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