Mammals that possess elaborate antipredator defences such as body armour, spines and quills are usually well protected, intermediate in size, primarily insectivorous and live in simple open environments. The benefits of such defences seem clear and may relax selection on maintaining cognitive abilities that aid in vigilance and predator recognition, and their bearers may accrue extensive production and maintenance costs. Here, in this comparative phylogenetic analysis of measurements of encephalization quotient and morphological defence scores of 647 mammal species representing nearly every order, we found that as lineages evolve stronger defences, they suffer a correlated reduction in encephalization. The only exceptions were those that live in trees—a complex three-dimensional world probably requiring greater cognitive abilities. At the proximate level, because brain tissue is extremely energetically expensive to build, mammals may be trading off spending more on elaborate defences and saving by building less powerful brains. At the ultimate level, having greater defences may also reduce the need for advanced cognitive abilities for constant assessment of environmental predation risk, especially in simple open environments.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3593714.
- Received August 24, 2016.
- Accepted November 21, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.