Brain evolution: Mammals, primates, chimpanzees, and humans

  • Oxnard C
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Though many modern techniques are available for studying brains, they are difficult to use in evolutionary contexts that require examination of large numbers of specimens and species, and all major parts of the brain. Thus, evolutionary studies of many species and of whole brains still tend to be based upon simpler data such as sizes of brains and brain components. Such investigations, carried out over many decades, have usually employed univariate and bivariate analyses, though a few investigators used early multivariate methods. In mammals, these studies generally show the primacy of the relationship between brain and brain-part sizes with overall body size. More recent multivariate applications have confirmed this (Finlay, B. L., and Darlington, R. B. (1995). Science 268: 1578–1584) and some have also separated the highest level phylogenetic groups: strepsirrhines and haplorrhines (Barton, R. A., and Harvey, P. H. (2000). Nature 405: 1055–1058). Both findings were, in fact, evident in earlier multivariate studies (Holloway, R. L. (1979). In Hahn, M. E., Jensen C., and Dudek, B. C. (eds.), Development and Evolution of Brain Size: Behavioral Implications, Academic Press, New York, pp. 59–88; Sacher,G.A. (1970). In Noback, C. R., and Montagna,W. (eds.), The Primate Brain: Advances in Primatology. Vol. 1, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Educational Division, Meredith Corporation, New York, pp. 245–287). However, new studies employing proportional data aimed at conveying input/output relationships between brain components show further groupings of species that share convergences in lifestyles (deWinter,W., and Oxnard, C. E. (2001). Nature 409: 710–714). The convergences are brought about by combinations of brain variables that seem to be associated with brain functions implied by the specific lifestyles. Our most recent results demonstrate that chimpanzeesand humans are especially different from one another, and the difference is not due to size alone. Part of this difference is merely a continuation, from chimpanzees towards humans, of a trend already present across all other primates that relates mainly to neocortical increase. But several other large and independent differences are not in the direction of the overall primate trend, but are differences of humans from all other mammals examined including all nonhuman primates. The combinations of brain variables associated with the latter differences are not related simply to enhancement of the neocortex, but seem to reflect other internal relationships. The overall separation of humans and chimpanzees is so large that it goes far beyond the conventional 98.6% commonality in their DNAs. It fits better with more recent molecular, developmental and evolutionary studies implying a considerably greater difference between chimpanzees and humans than usually recognized.

Author-supplied keywords

  • brain evolution
  • especially chimpanzees and humans
  • lifestyle convergences primates
  • multivariate statistical analyses
  • phylogenetic associations
  • size relationships

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  • Charles E. Oxnard

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