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Larger brain size indirectly increases vulnerability to extinction in mammals
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology. Estación Biológica de Donana (EBD-CSIC), Spain; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México.
Number of Authors: 4
2016 (English)In: Evolution, ISSN 0014-3820, E-ISSN 1558-5646, Vol. 70, no 6, 1364-1375 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Although previous studies have addressed the question of why large brains evolved, we have limited understanding of potential beneficial or detrimental effects of enlarged brain size in the face of current threats. Using novel phylogenetic path analysis, we evaluated how brain size directly and indirectly, via its effects on life history and ecology, influences vulnerability to extinction across 474 mammalian species. We found that larger brains, controlling for body size, indirectly increase vulnerability to extinction by extending the gestation period, increasing weaning age, and limiting litter sizes. However, we found no evidence of direct, beneficial, or detrimental effects of brain size on vulnerability to extinction, even when we explicitly considered the different types of threats that lead to vulnerability. Order-specific analyses revealed qualitatively similar patterns for Carnivora and Artiodactyla. Interestingly, for Primates, we found that larger brain size was directly (and indirectly) associated with increased vulnerability to extinction. Our results indicate that under current conditions, the constraints on life history imposed by large brains outweigh the potential benefits, undermining the resilience of the studied mammals. Contrary to the selective forces that have favored increased brain size throughout evolutionary history, at present, larger brains have become a burden for mammals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 70, no 6, 1364-1375 p.
Keyword [en]
Body size allometry, extinction risk, IUCN Red List, life-history traits, phylogenetic path analysis
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-132419DOI: 10.1111/evo.12943ISI: 000379268200017PubMedID: 27159368OAI: diva2:952230
Available from: 2016-08-12 Created: 2016-08-11 Last updated: 2016-08-12Bibliographically approved

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Gonzalez-Voyer, Alejandro
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