The impact of locomotion on the brain evolution of squirrels and close relatives

Ornella Bertrand, Hans Puschel Rouliez, Julia Schwab, Mary T. Silcox, Steve Brusatte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

How do brain size and proportions relate to ecology and evolutionary history? Here, we use virtual endocasts from 38 extinct and extant rodent species spanning 50+ million years of evolution to assess the impact of locomotion, body mass, and phylogeny on the size of the brain, olfactory bulbs, petrosal lobules, and neocortex. We find that body mass and phylogeny are highly correlated with relative brain and brain component size, and that locomotion strongly influences brain, petrosal lobule, and neocortical sizes. Notably, species living in trees have greater relative overall brain, petrosal lobule, and neocortical sizes compared to other locomotor categories, especially fossorial taxa. Across millions of years of Eocene-Recent environmental change, arboreality played a major role in the early evolution of squirrels and closely related aplodontiids, promoting the expansion of the neocortex and petrosal lobules. Fossoriality in aplodontiids had an opposing effect by reducing the need for large brains.
Original languageEnglish
Article number460
JournalCommunications biology
Volume4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2021

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