Coevolving avian eye size and brain size in relation to prey capture and nocturnality

L. Z. Garamszegi, A. P. Møller, J. Erritzøe


Behavioural adaptation to ecological conditions can lead to brain size evolution. Structures involved in behavioural visual information processing are expected to coevolve with enlargement of the brain. Because birds are mainly vision–oriented animals, we tested the predictions that adaptation to different foraging constraints can result in eye size evolution, and that species with large eyes have evolved large brains to cope with the increased amount of visual input. Using a comparative approach, we investigated the relationship between eye size and brain size, and the effect of prey capture technique and nocturnality on these traits. After controlling for allometric effects, there was a significant, positive correlation between relative brain size and relative eye size. Variation in relative eye and brain size were significantly and positively related to prey capture technique and nocturnality when a potentially confounding variable, aquatic feeding, was controlled statistically in multiple regression of independent linear contrasts. Applying a less robust, brunching approach, these patterns also emerged, with the exception that relative brain size did not vary with prey capture technique. Our findings suggest that relative eye size and brain size have coevolved in birds in response to nocturnal activity and, at least partly, to capture of mobile prey.