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Maternal investment, life histories, and the evolution of brain structure in primates.

Powell, Lauren E. and Barton, Robert A. and Street, Sally E. (2019) 'Maternal investment, life histories, and the evolution of brain structure in primates.', Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 286 (1911). p. 20191608.


Life history is a robust correlate of relative brain size: larger-brained mammals and birds have slower life histories and longer lifespans than smaller-brained species. The cognitive buffer hypothesis (CBH) proposes an adaptive explanation for this relationship: large brains may permit greater behavioural flexibility and thereby buffer the animal from unpredictable environmental challenges, allowing for reduced mortality and increased lifespan. By contrast, the developmental costs hypothesis (DCH) suggests that life-history correlates of brain size reflect the extension of maturational processes needed to accommodate the evolution of large brains, predicting correlations with pre-adult life-history phases. Here, we test novel predictions of the hypotheses in primates applied to the neocortex and cerebellum, two major brain structures with distinct developmental trajectories. While neocortical growth is allocated primarily to pre-natal development, the cerebellum exhibits relatively substantial post-natal growth. Consistent with the DCH, neocortical expansion is related primarily to extended gestation while cerebellar expansion to extended post-natal development, particularly the juvenile period. Contrary to the CBH, adult lifespan explains relatively little variance in the whole brain or neocortex volume once pre-adult life-history phases are accounted for. Only the cerebellum shows a relationship with lifespan after accounting for developmental periods. Our results substantiate and elaborate on the role of maternal investment and offspring development in brain evolution, suggest that brain components can evolve partly independently through modifications of distinct developmental phases, and imply that environmental input during post-natal maturation may be particularly crucial for the development of cerebellar function. They also suggest that relatively extended post-natal maturation times provide a developmental mechanism for the marked expansion of the cerebellum in the apes.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution.
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Publisher statement:This manuscript is available under a CC BY license. (
Date accepted:15 August 2019
Date deposited:29 August 2019
Date of first online publication:18 September 2019
Date first made open access:29 August 2019

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