Taxonomic differences in the scaling of brain on body weight among mammals

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Science  30 Jun 1989:
Vol. 244, Issue 4912, pp. 1589-1593
DOI: 10.1126/science.2740904


Theories for the evolution of brain weight in mammals suggest that closely related species have diverged largely as a result of selection for differences in body weight, but that differences among more distantly related species have arisen due to greater net directional selection on brain weight. This pattern of changing selection causes brain weight to evolve more slowly than body weight among closely related species, such as those in the same genus, than among more distantly related species, such as those from different families or orders; a phenomenon known as the "taxon-level effect." Thus, brain weight differs more for a given difference in body weight as the species compared are more distantly related. An alternative explanation for the taxon-level effect is proposed. Distantly related species are more likely to inhabit different ecological conditions than are more closely related species. Where the taxon-level effect occurs, brain weight appears to have evolved in response to the demands of these different ecological conditions. As a consequence, brain weight differs more among distantly related species, for any given difference in body weight, than among closely related species. This effect, rather than a progressive pattern of changing selection pressures, may account for the taxon-level effect in mammals.