Does more maternal investment mean a larger brain? Evolutionary relationships between reproductive mode and brain size in chondrichthyans

Published on 24 June 2011

Christopher G. Mull, Kara E. Yopak  and Nicholas K. Dulvy.


Chondrichthyans have the most diverse array of reproductive strategies of any vertebrate group, ranging from egg-laying to live-bearing with placental matrotrophy. Matrotrophy is defined as additional maternal provisioning beyond the yolk to the developing neonate; in chondrichthyans, this occurs through a range of mechanisms including uterine milk, oophagy, uterine cannibalism and placentotrophy. Chondrichthyans also exhibit a wide range of relative brain sizes and highly diverse patterns of brain organisation. Brains are energetically expensive to produce and maintain, and represent a major energetic constraint during early life in vertebrates. In mammals, more direct maternal–fetal placental connections have been associated with larger brains (steeper brain–body allometric scaling relationships). We test for a relationship between reproductive mode and relative brain size across 85 species from six major orders of chondrichthyans by using several phylogenetic comparative analyses. Ordinary least-squares (OLS) and reduced major axis (RMA) regression of body mass versus brain mass suggest that increased maternal investment results in a larger relative brain size. Our findings were supported by phylogenetic generalised least-squares models (pGLS), which also highlighted that these results vary with evolutionary tempo, as described by different branch-length assumptions. Across all analyses, maximum body size had a significant influence on the relative brain size, with large-bodied species (body mass >100 kg) having relatively smaller brains. The present study suggests that there may be a link between reproductive investment and relative brain size in chondrichthyans; however, a more definitive test requires a better-resolved phylogeny and a more nuanced categorisation of the level of maternal investment in chondrichthyans.

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(6) 567-575

SOURCE and PDF Download.



Leave a Reply