Encephalization and longevity evolved in a correlated fashion in euarchontoglires but not in other mammals

Alex R. Decasien, Nicole A. Thompson, Scott A. Williams, Milena R. Shattuck

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Across mammals, encephalization and longevity show a strong correlation. It is not clear, however, whether these traits evolved in a correlated fashion within mammalian orders, or when they do, whether one trait drives changes in the other. Here, we compared independent and correlated evolutionary models to identify instances of correlated evolution within six mammalian orders. In cases of correlated evolution, we subsequently examined transition patterns between small/large relative brain size and short/long lifespan. In four mammalian orders, these traits evolved independently. This may reflect constraints related to energy allocation, predation avoidance tactics, and reproductive strategies. Within both primates and rodents, and their parent clade Euarchontoglires, we found evidence for correlated evolution. In primates, transition patterns suggest relatively larger brains likely facilitated the evolution of long lifespans. Because larger brains prolong development and reduce fertility rates, they may be compensated for with longer lifespans. Furthermore, encephalization may enable cognitively-complex strategies that reduce extrinsic mortality. Rodents show an inverse pattern of correlated evolution, whereby long lifespans appear to have facilitated the evolution of relatively larger brains. This may be because longer lived organisms have more to gain from investment in encephalization. Together, our results provide evidence for the correlated evolution of encephalization and longevity, but only in some mammalian orders.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)2617-2631
    Number of pages15
    Issue number12
    StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


    • Cognitive buffer
    • Delayed benefits
    • Encephalization
    • Expensive brain
    • Longevity

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
    • Genetics
    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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