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1.  Reconstructing the ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis 
BMC Biology  2010;8:9.
Brain size is a key adaptive trait. It is often assumed that increasing brain size was a general evolutionary trend in primates, yet recent fossil discoveries have documented brain size decreases in some lineages, raising the question of how general a trend there was for brains to increase in mass over evolutionary time. We present the first systematic phylogenetic analysis designed to answer this question.
We performed ancestral state reconstructions of three traits (absolute brain mass, absolute body mass, relative brain mass) using 37 extant and 23 extinct primate species and three approaches to ancestral state reconstruction: parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian Markov-chain Monte Carlo. Both absolute and relative brain mass generally increased over evolutionary time, but body mass did not. Nevertheless both absolute and relative brain mass decreased along several branches. Applying these results to the contentious case of Homo floresiensis, we find a number of scenarios under which the proposed evolution of Homo floresiensis' small brain appears to be consistent with patterns observed along other lineages, dependent on body mass and phylogenetic position.
Our results confirm that brain expansion began early in primate evolution and show that increases occurred in all major clades. Only in terms of an increase in absolute mass does the human lineage appear particularly striking, with both the rate of proportional change in mass and relative brain size having episodes of greater expansion elsewhere on the primate phylogeny. However, decreases in brain mass also occurred along branches in all major clades, and we conclude that, while selection has acted to enlarge primate brains, in some lineages this trend has been reversed. Further analyses of the phylogenetic position of Homo floresiensis and better body mass estimates are required to confirm the plausibility of the evolution of its small brain mass. We find that for our dataset the Bayesian analysis for ancestral state reconstruction is least affected by inclusion of fossil data suggesting that this approach might be preferable for future studies on other taxa with a poor fossil record.
PMCID: PMC2825212  PMID: 20105283
2.  Primate brain architecture and selection in relation to sex 
BMC Biology  2007;5:20.
Social and competitive demands often differ between the sexes in mammals. These differing demands should be expected to produce variation in the relative sizes of various brain structures. Sexual selection on males can be predicted to influence brain components handling sensory-motor skills that are important for physical competition or neural pathways involving aggression. Conversely, because female fitness is more closely linked to ecological factors and social interactions that enable better acquisition of resources, social selection on females should select for brain components important for navigating social networks. Sexual and social selection acting on one sex could produce sexual dimorphism in brain structures, which would result in larger species averages for those same brain structures. Alternatively, sex-specific selection pressures could produce correlated effects in the other sex, resulting in larger brain structures for both males and females of a species. Data are presently unavailable for the sex-specific sizes of brain structures for anthropoid primates, but under either scenario, the effects of sexual and social selection should leave a detectable signal in average sizes of brain structures for different species.
The degree of male intra-sexual selection was positively correlated with several structures involved in autonomic functions and sensory-motor skills, and in pathways relating to aggression and aggression control. The degree of male intra-sexual selection was not correlated with relative neocortex size, which instead was significantly positively correlated with female social group size, but negatively correlated with male group size.
Sexual selection on males and social selection on females have exerted different effects on primate brain architecture. Species with a higher degree of male intra-sexual selection carry a neural signature of an evolutionary history centered on physical conflicts, but no traces of increased demands on sociocognitive tasks. Conversely, female sociality is indicated to have driven the evolution of socio-cognitive skills. Primate brain architecture is therefore likely to be a product of ecological and species-specific social factors as well as different sex-specific selection pressures. Our results also highlight the need for acquisition and analysis of sex-specific brain components in mammals.
PMCID: PMC1885794  PMID: 17493264

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