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The economics of brain size evolution in vertebrates


Heldstab, Sandra A; Isler, Karin; Graber, Sereina Maria; Schuppli, Caroline; van Schaik, Carel P (2022). The economics of brain size evolution in vertebrates. Current Biology, 32(12):R697-R708.

Abstract

Across the animal kingdom, we see remarkable variation in brain size. This variation has even increased over evolutionary time. Traditionally, studies aiming to explain brain size evolution have looked at the fitness benefits of increased brain size in relation to its increased cognitive performance in the social and/or ecological domain. However, brains are among the most energetically expensive tissues in the body and also require an uninterrupted energy supply. If not compensated, these energetic demands inevitably lead to a reduction in energy allocation to other vital functions. In this review, we summarize how an increasing number of studies show that to fully comprehend brain size evolution and the large variation in brain size across lineages, it is important to look at the economics of brains, including the different pathways through which the high energetic costs of brains can be offset. We further show how numerous studies converge on the conclusion that cognitive abilities can only drive brain size evolution in vertebrate lineages where they result in an improved energy balance through favourable ecological preconditions. Cognitive benefits that do not directly improve the organism’s energy balance can only be selectively favoured when they produce such large improvements in reproduction or survival that they outweigh the negative energetic effects of the large brain.

Abstract

Across the animal kingdom, we see remarkable variation in brain size. This variation has even increased over evolutionary time. Traditionally, studies aiming to explain brain size evolution have looked at the fitness benefits of increased brain size in relation to its increased cognitive performance in the social and/or ecological domain. However, brains are among the most energetically expensive tissues in the body and also require an uninterrupted energy supply. If not compensated, these energetic demands inevitably lead to a reduction in energy allocation to other vital functions. In this review, we summarize how an increasing number of studies show that to fully comprehend brain size evolution and the large variation in brain size across lineages, it is important to look at the economics of brains, including the different pathways through which the high energetic costs of brains can be offset. We further show how numerous studies converge on the conclusion that cognitive abilities can only drive brain size evolution in vertebrate lineages where they result in an improved energy balance through favourable ecological preconditions. Cognitive benefits that do not directly improve the organism’s energy balance can only be selectively favoured when they produce such large improvements in reproduction or survival that they outweigh the negative energetic effects of the large brain.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > General Neuroscience
Life Sciences > General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
Life Sciences > General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Agricultural and Biological Sciences, General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
Language:English
Date:1 June 2022
Deposited On:28 Oct 2022 06:19
Last Modified:21 Jun 2024 03:34
Publisher:Cell Press (Elsevier)
ISSN:0960-9822
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.04.096
PubMed ID:35728555
Project Information:
  • : FunderUniversität Zürich
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  • : FunderVolkswagen Foundation
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  • : FunderA.H. Schultz-Stiftung zur Förderung Primatologischer Forschung
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