Primate brain size is predicted by diet but not sociality

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: DeCasien, Alex R.; Williams, Scott A.; Higham, James P.
Year of Publication: 2017
Journal: Nature Ecology & Evolution
Volume: 1
Pagination: 0112 -
Date Published: 2017/03/27
Publication Language: eng

The social brain hypothesis posits that social complexity is the primary driver of primate cognitive complexity, and that social pressures ultimately led to the evolution of the large human brain. Although this idea has been supported by studies indicating positive relationships between relative brain and/or neocortex size and group size, reported effects of different social and mating systems are highly conflicting. Here, we use a much larger sample of primates, more recent phylogenies, and updated statistical techniques, to show that brain size is predicted by diet, rather than multiple measures of sociality, after controlling for body size and phylogeny. Specifically, frugivores exhibit larger brains than folivores. Our results call into question the current emphasis on social rather than ecological explanations for the evolution of large brains in primates and evoke a range of ecological and developmental hypotheses centred on frugivory, including spatial information storage, extractive foraging and overcoming metabolic constraints.

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