Metabolic costs of brain size evolution

Karin Isler, Carel P van Schaik

Abstract In the ongoing discussion about brain evolution in vertebrates, the main interest has shifted from theories focusing on energy balance to theories proposing social or ecological benefits of enhanced intellect. With the availability of a wealth of new data on basal metabolic rate (BMR) and brain size and with the aid of reliable techniques of comparative analysis, we are able to show that in fact energetics is an issue in the maintenance of a relatively large brain, and that brain size is positively correlated with the BMR in mammals, controlling for body size effects. We conclude that attempts to explain brain size variation in different taxa must consider the ability to sustain the energy costs alongside cognitive benefits.

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