Research Topic

The Human Brain’s Place in Nature: Evolution of Large Brains

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This Topic is cross-listed in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy
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This Topic is cross-listed in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy

The human brain is often considered special, and much research effort is directed towards understanding the genetic and developmental origins of the expansion in primate brain size that led to the human brain. However, an appraisal of mammalian brain evolution shows that large brains evolved several times independently, among groups as diverse as Afrotherians (elephants), Primates (great apes and humans), Carnivores (walrus, bear), Perissodactyls (rhynoceros), Artiodactlys (antelopes and giraffes) and Cetaceans (dolphins and whales). Moreover, recent evidence suggests that not all brains are made the same, such that brains of a similar size may be composed of very different numbers of neurons, and a very large brain does not necessarily hold more neurons than a not-so-large brain of an animal of a different mammalian group. Thus, different mechanisms may have led to the evolution of large brains in the various mammalian groups. As a result of these different evolutionary paths, the human brain, despite not being the largest, may be the brain that holds the largest number of neurons, which might be responsible for our cognivite advantage over other animals.

This proposed Research Topic will address the biological diversity of large brains and explore the human brain’s place in nature by covering themes related to mechanisms of cortical expansion in evolution; the biology of large mammals; neuroanatomical similarities (and peculiarities) of large brains; differences among large brains of different mammalian groups; physical constraints to brain expansion; metabolic aspects of large brain size; the relationship between brain size and cognitive abilities, and the cognitive abilities of large-brained mammals in particular; the evolutionary role of social interactions in brain expansion in mammalian evolution; the advantages and costs of having a large brain; the relationship between brain size, gestation period, and longevity; and human brain evolution in particular.


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