Evolution & Allometry of Mammalian Brain Size

The accumulation of small heritable changes within populations over time.

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Evolution & Allometry of Mammalian Brain Size

#1  Postby Spearthrower » Jul 01, 2022 6:43 am

Brain-body allometry is a recurring theme in many discussions about intelligence, and while this paper isn't new, it does point to problems with the data array used to confirm predictions, so i am posting it here for future easy reference.


Relative brain size has long been considered a reflection of cognitive capacities and has played a fundamental role in developing core theories in the life sciences. Yet, the notion that relative brain size validly represents selection on brain size relies on the untested assumptions that brain-body allometry is restrained to a stable scaling relationship across species and that any deviation from this slope is due to selection on brain size. Using the largest fossil and extant dataset yet assembled, we find that shifts in allometric slope underpin major transitions in mammalian evolution and are often primarily characterized by marked changes in body size. Our results reveal that the largest-brained mammals achieved large relative brain sizes by highly divergent paths. These findings prompt a reevaluation of the traditional paradigm of relative brain size and open new opportunities to improve our understanding of the genetic and developmental mechanisms that influence brain size.

The potential of this approach is arguably best exemplified by humans, where a shift to bipedality allowed for a redistribution of energy from locomotion to reproduction and brain growth (44). This redistribution of energy to the brain effected changes in the mechanisms of its growth, for example, delayed expression of genes associated with synaptic development (45) and neotenic changes in mRNA expression (46) for those brain regions that explain human brain size expansion (36, 41). In turn, these developmental changes caused an evolutionary allometric shift that is characterized by a significantly higher ratio of brain variance to body variance, which indicates divergent selection on brain size (causing an increase in slope; see Figs. 1 and 2 and table S5).
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