Brain size varies with temperature in vertebrates

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James F. Gillooly (Creator)
Michael W. McCoy (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
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Abstract: The tremendous variation in brain size among vertebrates has long been thought to be related to differences in species’ metabolic rates. It is thought that species with higher metabolic rates can supply more energy to support the relatively high cost of brain tissue. And yet, while body temperature is known to be a major determinant of metabolic rate, the possible effects of temperature on brain size have scarcely been explored. Thus, here we explore the effects of temperature on brain size among diverse vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals). We find that, after controlling for body size, brain size increases exponentially with temperature in much the same way as metabolic rate. These results suggest that temperature-dependent changes in aerobic capacity, which have long been known to affect physical performance, similarly affect brain size. The observed temperature-dependence of brain size may explain observed gradients in brain size among both ectotherms and endotherms across broad spatial and temporal scales.

Additional Information

PeerJ; 2: p. 1-8
Language: English
Date: 2014
Cranial capacity, Metabolic rate, Encephalization, Metabolic theory, Allometry

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