ABSTRACT: The classic anthropological hypothesis known as the "obstetrical dilemma" is a well-known explanation for human altriciality, a condition that has significant implications for human social and behavioral evolution. The hypothesis holds that antagonistic selection for a large neonatal brain and a narrow, bipedal-adapted birth canal poses a problem for childbirth; the hominin "solution" is to truncate gestation, resulting in an altricial neonate. This explanation for human altriciality based on pelvic constraints persists despite data linking human life history to that of other species. Here, we present evidence that challenges the importance of pelvic morphology and mechanics in the evolution of human gestation and altriciality. Instead, our analyses suggest that limits to maternal metabolism are the primary constraints on human gestation length and fetal growth. Although pelvic remodeling and encephalization during hominin evolution contributed to the present parturitional difficulty, there is little evidence that pelvic constraints have altered the timing of birth.
Project description:Hominin birth mechanics have been examined and debated from limited and often fragmentary fossil pelvic material. Some have proposed that birth in the early hominin genus Australopithecus was relatively easy and ape-like, while others have argued for a more complex, human-like birth mechanism in australopiths. Still others have hypothesized a unique birth mechanism, with no known modern equivalent. Preliminary work on the pelvis of the recently discovered 1.98 million-year-old hominin Australopithecus sediba found it to possess a unique combination of Homo and Australopithecus-like features. Here, we create a composite pelvis of Australopithecus sediba to reconstruct the birth process in this early hominin. Consistent with other hominin species, including modern humans, the fetus would enter the pelvic inlet in a transverse direction. However, unlike in modern humans, the fetus would not need additional rotations to traverse the birth canal. Further fetal rotation is unnecessary even with a Homo-like pelvic midplane expansion, not seen in earlier hominin species. With a birth canal shape more closely associated with specimens from the genus Homo and a lack of cephalopelvic or shoulder constraints, we therefore find evidence to support the hypothesis that the pelvic morphology of Australopithecus sediba is a result of locomotor, rather than strictly obstetric constraints.
Project description:Throughout hominin evolution, the brain of our ancestors underwent a 3-fold increase in size and substantial structural reorganization. However, inferring brain reorganization from fossil hominin neurocrania (=braincases) remains a challenge, above all because comparative data relating brain to neurocranial structures in living humans and great apes are still scarce. Here we use MRI and same-subject spatially aligned computed tomography (CT) and MRI data of humans and chimpanzees to quantify the spatial relationships between these structures, both within and across species. Results indicate that evolutionary changes in brain and neurocranial structures are largely independent of each other. The brains of humans compared to chimpanzees exhibit a characteristic posterior shift of the inferior pre- and postcentral gyri, indicative of reorganization of the frontal opercular region. Changes in human neurocranial structure do not reflect cortical reorganization. Rather, they reflect constraints related to increased encephalization and obligate bipedalism, resulting in relative enlargement of the parietal bones and anterior displacement of the cerebellar fossa. This implies that the relative position and size of neurocranial bones, as well as overall endocranial shape (e.g., globularity), should not be used to make inferences about evolutionary changes in the relative size or reorganization of adjacent cortical regions of fossil hominins.
Project description:A large brain can offer several cognitive advantages. However, brain tissue has an especially high metabolic rate. Thus, evolving an enlarged brain requires either a decrease in other energetic requirements, or an increase in overall energy consumption. Previous studies have found conflicting evidence for these hypotheses, leaving the metabolic costs and constraints in the evolution of increased encephalization unclear. Mormyrid electric fishes have extreme encephalization comparable to that of primates. Here, we show that brain size varies widely among mormyrid species, and that there is little evidence for a trade-off with organ size, but instead a correlation between brain size and resting oxygen consumption rate. Additionally, we show that increased brain size correlates with decreased hypoxia tolerance. Our data thus provide a non-mammalian example of extreme encephalization that is accommodated by an increase in overall energy consumption. Previous studies have found energetic trade-offs with variation in brain size in taxa that have not experienced extreme encephalization comparable with that of primates and mormyrids. Therefore, we suggest that energetic trade-offs can only explain the evolution of moderate increases in brain size, and that the energetic requirements of extreme encephalization may necessitate increased overall energy investment.
Project description:The brain is one of the most energetically expensive organs in the vertebrate body. Consequently, the energetic requirements of encephalization are suggested to impose considerable constraints on brain size evolution. Three main hypotheses concerning how energetic constraints might affect brain evolution predict covariation between brain investment and (1) investment into other costly tissues, (2) overall metabolic rate, and (3) reproductive investment. To date, these hypotheses have mainly been tested in homeothermic animals and the existing data are inconclusive. However, there are good reasons to believe that energetic limitations might play a role in large-scale patterns of brain size evolution also in ectothermic vertebrates. Here, we test these hypotheses in a group of ectothermic vertebrates, the Lake Tanganyika cichlid fishes. After controlling for the effect of shared ancestry and confounding ecological variables, we find a negative association between brain size and gut size. Furthermore, we find that the evolution of a larger brain is accompanied by increased reproductive investment into egg size and parental care. Our results indicate that the energetic costs of encephalization may be an important general factor involved in the evolution of brain size also in ectothermic vertebrates.
Project description:Although common in birds, social monogamy, or pair-living, is rare among mammals because internal gestation and lactation in mammals makes it advantageous for males to seek additional mating opportunities. A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of social monogamy among mammals: as a male mate-guarding strategy, because of the benefits of biparental care, or as a defense against infanticidal males. However, comparative analyses have been unable to resolve the root causes of monogamy. Primates are unusual among mammals because monogamy has evolved independently in all of the major clades. Here we combine trait data across 230 primate species with a Bayesian likelihood framework to test for correlated evolution between monogamy and a range of traits to evaluate the competing hypotheses. We find evidence of correlated evolution between social monogamy and both female ranging patterns and biparental care, but the most compelling explanation for the appearance of monogamy is male infanticide. It is only the presence of infanticide that reliably increases the probability of a shift to social monogamy, whereas monogamy allows the secondary adoption of paternal care and is associated with a shift to discrete ranges. The origin of social monogamy in primates is best explained by long lactation periods caused by altriciality, making primate infants particularly vulnerable to infanticidal males. We show that biparental care shortens relative lactation length, thereby reducing infanticide risk and increasing reproductive rates. These phylogenetic analyses support a key role for infanticide in the social evolution of primates, and potentially, humans.
Project description:Humans and other large-brained hominins have been proposed to increase energy turnover during their evolutionary history. Such increased energy turnover is plausible, given the evolution of energy-rich diets, but requires empirical confirmation. Framing human energetics in a phylogenetic context, our meta-analysis of 17 wild non-human primate species shows that daily metabolizable energy input follows an allometric relationship with body mass where the allometric exponent for mass is 0.75 ± 0.04, close to that reported for daily energy expenditure measured with doubly labelled water in primates. Human populations at subsistence level (n = 6) largely fall within the variation of primate species in the scaling of energy intake and therefore do not consume significantly more energy than predicted for a non-human primate of equivalent mass. By contrast, humans ingest a conspicuously lower mass of food (-64 ± 6%) compared with primates and maintain their energy intake relatively more constantly across the year. We conclude that our hominin hunter-gatherer ancestors did not increase their energy turnover beyond the allometric relationship characterizing all primate species. The reduction in digestive costs due to consumption of a lower mass of high-quality food, as well as stabilization of energy supply, may have been important evolutionary steps enabling encephalization in the absence of significantly raised energy intakes.
Project description:Current evidence suggests that many of the major events in hominin evolution occurred in East Africa. Hence, over the past two decades, there has been intensive work undertaken to understand African palaeoclimate and tectonics in order to put together a coherent picture of how the environment of Africa has varied over the past 10 Myr. A new consensus is emerging that suggests the unusual geology and climate of East Africa created a complex, environmentally very variable setting. This new understanding of East African climate has led to the pulsed climate variability hypothesis that suggests the long-term drying trend in East Africa was punctuated by episodes of short alternating periods of extreme humidity and aridity which may have driven hominin speciation, encephalization and dispersals out of Africa. This hypothesis is unique as it provides a conceptual framework within which other evolutionary theories can be examined: first, at macro-scale comparing phylogenetic gradualism and punctuated equilibrium; second, at a more focused level of human evolution comparing allopatric speciation, aridity hypothesis, turnover pulse hypothesis, variability selection hypothesis, Red Queen hypothesis and sympatric speciation based on sexual selection. It is proposed that each one of these mechanisms may have been acting on hominins during these short periods of climate variability, which then produce a range of different traits that led to the emergence of new species. In the case of Homo erectus (sensu lato), it is not just brain size that changes but life history (shortened inter-birth intervals, delayed development), body size and dimorphism, shoulder morphology to allow thrown projectiles, adaptation to long-distance running, ecological flexibility and social behaviour. The future of evolutionary research should be to create evidence-based meta-narratives, which encompass multiple mechanisms that select for different traits leading ultimately to speciation.
Project description:Mammal life history traits relating to growth and reproduction are extremely diverse. Sibling rivalry may contribute to selection pressures influencing this diversity, because individuals that are relatively large at birth typically have an advantage in competition for milk. However, selection for increased growth rate is likely to be constrained by kin selection and physiological costs. Here, we present and test a model examining the ESS (evolutionarily stable strategy) balance between these constraints and advantages associated with increased prenatal growth in mammal sibling rivalry. Predictions of the model are supported by results of comparative analyses for the Carnivora and Insectivora, which demonstrate an increase in prenatal growth rate with increasing intensity of postnatal scramble competition, and a decrease in postnatal growth rate relative to size at birth. Because increased prenatal growth rates are predicted to select for reduced gestation length under certain conditions, our study also indicates that sibling rivalry may contribute to selection pressures influencing variation in altriciality and precociality among mammals.
Project description:What makes humans unique? This question has fascinated scientists and philosophers for centuries and it is still a matter of intense debate. Nowadays, human brain expansion during evolution has been acknowledged to explain our empowered cognitive capabilities. The drivers for such accelerated expansion remain, however, largely unknown. In this sense, studies have suggested that the cooking of food could be a pre-requisite for the expansion of brain size in early hominins. However, this appealing hypothesis is only supported by a mathematical model suggesting that the increasing number of neurons in the brain would constrain body size among primates due to a limited amount of calories obtained from diets. Here, we show, by using a similar mathematical model, that a tradeoff between body mass and the number of brain neurons imposed by dietary constraints during hominin evolution is unlikely. Instead, the predictable number of neurons in the hominin brain varies much more in function of foraging efficiency than body mass. We also review archeological data to show that the expansion of the brain volume in the hominin lineage is described by a linear function independent of evidence of fire control, and therefore, thermal processing of food does not account for this phenomenon. Finally, we report experiments in mice showing that thermal processing of meat does not increase its caloric availability in mice. Altogether, our data indicate that cooking is neither sufficient nor necessary to explain hominin brain expansion.
Project description:Human walking entails coordinated out-of-phase axial rotations of the thorax and pelvis. A long-held assumption is that this ability relies on adaptations for trunk flexibility present in humans, but not in chimpanzees, other great apes, or australopithecines. Here we use three-dimensional kinematic analyses to show that, contrary to current thinking, chimpanzees walking bipedally rotate their lumbar and thoracic regions in a manner similar to humans. This occurs despite differences in the magnitude of trunk motion, and despite morphological differences in truncal 'rigidity' between species. These results suggest that, like humans and chimpanzees, early hominins walked with upper body rotations that countered pelvic rotation. We demonstrate that even if early hominins walked with pelvic rotations 50% larger than humans, they may have accrued the energetic and mechanical benefits of out-of-phase thoracic rotations. This would have allowed early hominins to reduce work and locomotor cost, improving walking efficiency early in hominin evolution.