Neocortex Size and Behavioural Ecology in Primates

Robert A. Barton


The neocortex is widely held to have been the focus of mammalian brain evolution, but what selection pressures explain the observed diversity in its size and structure? Among primates, comparative studies suggest that neocortical evolution is related to the cognitive demands of sociality, and here I confirm that neocortex size and social group size are positively correlated once phylogenetic associations and overall brain size are taken into account. This association holds within haplorhine but not strepsirhine primates. In addition, the neocortex is larger in diurnal than in nocturnal primates, and among diurnal haplorhines its size is positively correlated with the degree of frugivory. These ecological correlates reflect the diverse sensory-cognitive functions of the neocortex.

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