Vertebrate brains differ in overall size, composition and functional capacities, but the evolutionary processes linking these traits are unclear. Two leading models offer opposing views: the concerted model ascribes major dimensions of covariation in brain structures to developmental events, whereas the mosaic model relates divergent structures to functional capabilities. The models are often cast as incompatible, but they must be unified to explain how adaptive changes in brain structure arise from pre-existing architectures and developmental mechanisms. Here we show that variation in the sizes of discrete neural systems in songbirds, a species-rich group exhibiting diverse behavioural and ecological specializations, supports major elements of both models. In accordance with the concerted model, most variation in nucleus volumes is shared across functional domains and allometry is related to developmental sequence. Per the mosaic model, residual variation in nucleus volumes is correlated within functional systems and predicts specific behavioural capabilities. These comparisons indicate that oscine brains evolved primarily as a coordinated whole but also experienced significant, independent modifications to dedicated systems from specific selection pressures. Finally, patterns of covariation between species and brain areas hint at underlying developmental mechanisms.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3757223.
- Received March 5, 2017.
- Accepted April 10, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.