Pattern and process in hominin brain size evolution are scale-dependent.
ABSTRACT: A large brain is a defining feature of modern humans, yet there is no consensus regarding the patterns, rates and processes involved in hominin brain size evolution. We use a reliable proxy for brain size in fossils, endocranial volume (ECV), to better understand how brain size evolved at both clade- and lineage-level scales. For the hominin clade overall, the dominant signal is consistent with a gradual increase in brain size. This gradual trend appears to have been generated primarily by processes operating within hypothesized lineages-64% or 88% depending on whether one uses a more or less speciose taxonomy, respectively. These processes were supplemented by the appearance in the fossil record of larger-brained Homo species and the subsequent disappearance of smaller-brained Australopithecus and Paranthropus taxa. When the estimated rate of within-lineage ECV increase is compared to an exponential model that operationalizes generation-scale evolutionary processes, it suggests that the observed data were the result of episodes of directional selection interspersed with periods of stasis and/or drift; all of this occurs on too fine a timescale to be resolved by the current human fossil record, thus producing apparent gradual trends within lineages. Our findings provide a quantitative basis for developing and testing scale-explicit hypotheses about the factors that led brain size to increase during hominin evolution.
Project description:Humans' prolonged somatic development and life history are unique among primates, yet their evolutionary origins remain unclear. Dental development has been used as a proxy to reconstruct life history evolution in the hominin clade and indicates a recent emergence of the human developmental pattern. Here, we analyse tooth formation and eruption in two developing dentitions of Homo naledi, a late-surviving, morphologically mosaic hominin species. Deciduous dental development is more similar to humans than to chimpanzees, probably reflecting hominin symplesiomorphy rather than bearing life history significance. The later stages of permanent tooth development present a mix of human- and chimpanzee-like patterns. Surprisingly, the M2 of H. naledi emerges late in the eruption sequence, a pattern previously unknown in fossil hominins and common in modern humans. This pattern has been argued to reflect a slow life history and is unexpected in a small-brained hominin. The geological age of H. naledi (approx. 300 kya), coupled with its small brain size and the dental development data presented here, raise questions about the relationship between dental development and other variables associated with life history.
Project description:Homo floresiensis is an extinct, diminutive hominin species discovered in the Late Pleistocene deposits of Liang Bua cave, Flores, eastern Indonesia. The nature and evolutionary origins of H. floresiensis' unique physical characters have been intensively debated. Based on extensive comparisons using linear metric analyses, crown contour analyses, and other trait-by-trait morphological comparisons, we report here that the dental remains from multiple individuals indicate that H. floresiensis had primitive canine-premolar and advanced molar morphologies, a combination of dental traits unknown in any other hominin species. The primitive aspects are comparable to H. erectus from the Early Pleistocene, whereas some of the molar morphologies are more progressive even compared to those of modern humans. This evidence contradicts the earlier claim of an entirely modern human-like dental morphology of H. floresiensis, while at the same time does not support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis originated from a much older H. habilis or Australopithecus-like small-brained hominin species currently unknown in the Asian fossil record. These results are however consistent with the alternative hypothesis that H. floresiensis derived from an earlier Asian Homo erectus population and experienced substantial body and brain size dwarfism in an isolated insular setting. The dentition of H. floresiensis is not a simple, scaled-down version of earlier hominins.
Project description:The early Pleistocene colonization of temperate Eurasia by Homo erectus was not only a significant biogeographic event but also a major evolutionary threshold. Dmanisi's rich collection of hominin fossils, revealing a population that was small-brained with both primitive and derived skeletal traits, has been dated to the earliest Upper Matuyama chron (ca. 1.77 Ma). Here we present archaeological and geologic evidence that push back Dmanisi's first occupations to shortly after 1.85 Ma and document repeated use of the site over the last half of the Olduvai subchron, 1.85-1.78 Ma. These discoveries show that the southern Caucasus was occupied repeatedly before Dmanisi's hominin fossil assemblage accumulated, strengthening the probability that this was part of a core area for the colonization of Eurasia. The secure age for Dmanisi's first occupations reveals that Eurasia was probably occupied before Homo erectus appears in the East African fossil record.
Project description:The large brain and small postcanine teeth of modern humans are among our most distinctive features, and trends in their evolution are well studied within the hominin clade. Classic accounts hypothesize that larger brains and smaller teeth coevolved because behavioral changes associated with increased brain size allowed a subsequent dental reduction. However, recent studies have found mismatches between trends in brain enlargement and posterior tooth size reduction in some hominin species. We use a multiple-variance Brownian motion approach in association with evolutionary simulations to measure the tempo and mode of the evolution of endocranial and dental size and shape within the hominin clade. We show that hominin postcanine teeth have evolved at a relatively consistent neutral rate, whereas brain size evolved at comparatively more heterogeneous rates that cannot be explained by a neutral model, with rapid pulses in the branches leading to later Homo species. Brain reorganization shows evidence of elevated rates only much later in hominin evolution, suggesting that fast-evolving traits such as the acquisition of a globular shape may be the result of direct or indirect selection for functional or structural traits typical of modern humans.
Project description:Hominin cranial remains from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, represent multiple individuals of the species Homo naledi This species exhibits a small endocranial volume comparable to Australopithecus, combined with several aspects of external cranial anatomy similar to larger-brained species of Homo such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus Here, we describe the endocast anatomy of this recently discovered species. Despite the small size of the H. naledi endocasts, they share several aspects of structure in common with other species of Homo, not found in other hominins or great apes, notably in the organization of the inferior frontal and lateral orbital gyri. The presence of such structural innovations in a small-brained hominin may have relevance to behavioral evolution within the genus Homo.
Project description:The evolution of human cognition has been inferred from anthropological discoveries and estimates of brain size from fossil skulls. A more direct measure of cognition would be cerebral metabolic rate, which is proportional to cerebral blood flow rate (perfusion). The hominin cerebrum is supplied almost exclusively by the internal carotid arteries. The sizes of the foramina that transmitted these vessels in life can be measured in hominin fossil skulls and used to calculate cerebral perfusion rate. Perfusion in 11 species of hominin ancestors, from <i>Australopithecus</i> to archaic <i>Homo sapiens</i>, increases disproportionately when scaled against brain volume (the allometric exponent is 1.41). The high exponent indicates an increase in the metabolic intensity of cerebral tissue in later <i>Homo</i> species, rather than remaining constant (1.0) as expected by a linear increase in neuron number, or decreasing according to Kleiber's Law (0.75). During 3 Myr of hominin evolution, cerebral tissue perfusion increased 1.7-fold, which, when multiplied by a 3.5-fold increase in brain size, indicates a 6.0-fold increase in total cerebral blood flow rate. This is probably associated with increased interneuron connectivity, synaptic activity and cognitive function, which all ultimately depend on cerebral metabolic rate.
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:The evolution of mammalian brain size is directly linked with the evolution of the brain's unique structure and performance. Both maternal life history investment traits and basal metabolic rate (BMR) correlate with relative brain size, but current hypotheses regarding the details of these relationships are based largely on placental mammals. Using encephalization quotients, partial correlation analyses, and bivariate regressions relating brain size to maternal investment times and BMR, we provide a direct quantitative comparison of brain size evolution in marsupials and placentals, whose reproduction and metabolism differ extensively. Our results show that the misconception that marsupials are systematically smaller-brained than placentals is driven by the inclusion of one large-brained placental clade, Primates. Marsupial and placental brain size partial correlations differ in that marsupials lack a partial correlation of BMR with brain size. This contradicts hypotheses stating that the maintenance of relatively larger brains requires higher BMRs. We suggest that a positive BMR-brain size correlation is a placental trait related to the intimate physiological contact between mother and offspring during gestation. Marsupials instead achieve brain sizes comparable to placentals through extended lactation. Comparison with avian brain evolution suggests that placental brain size should be constrained due to placentals' relative precociality, as has been hypothesized for precocial bird hatchlings. We propose that placentals circumvent this constraint because of their focus on gestation, as opposed to the marsupial emphasis on lactation. Marsupials represent a less constrained condition, demonstrating that hypotheses regarding placental brain size evolution cannot be generalized to all mammals.
Project description:Body size reduction in mammals is usually associated with only moderate brain size reduction, because the brain and sensory organs complete their growth before the rest of the body during ontogeny. On this basis, 'phyletic dwarfs' are predicted to have a greater relative brain size than 'phyletic giants'. However, this trend has been questioned in the special case of dwarfism of mammals on islands. Here we show that the endocranial capacities of extinct dwarf species of hippopotamus from Madagascar are up to 30% smaller than those of a mainland African ancestor scaled to equivalent body mass. These results show that brain size reduction is much greater than predicted from an intraspecific 'late ontogenetic' model of dwarfism in which brain size scales to body size with an exponent of 0.35. The nature of the proportional change or grade shift observed here indicates that selective pressures on brain size are potentially independent of those on body size. This study demonstrates empirically that it is mechanistically possible for dwarf mammals on islands to evolve significantly smaller brains than would be predicted from a model of dwarfing based on the intraspecific scaling of the mainland ancestor. Our findings challenge current understanding of brain-body allometric relationships in mammals and suggest that the process of dwarfism could in principle explain small brain size, a factor relevant to the interpretation of the small-brained hominin found on the Island of Flores, Indonesia.
Project description:An on-going debate concerning the dietary adaptations of archaic hominins and early Homo has been fuelled by contradictory inferences obtained using different methodologies. This work presents an extensive comparative sample of 30 extant primate species that was assembled to perform a morpho-functional comparison of these taxa with 12 models corresponding to eight fossil hominin species. Finite Element Analysis and Geometric Morphometrics were employed to analyse chewing biomechanics and mandible morphology to, firstly, establish the variation of this clade, secondly, relate stress and shape variables, and finally, to classify fossil individuals into broad ingesta related hardness categories using a support vector machine algorithm. Our results suggest that some hominins previously assigned as hard food consumers (e.g. the members of the Paranthropus clade) in fact seem to rely more strongly on soft foods, which is consistent with most recent studies using either microwear or stable isotope analyses. By analysing morphometric and stress results in the context of the comparative framework, we conclude that in the hominin clade there were probably no hard-food specialists. Nonetheless, the biomechanical ability to comminute harder items, if required as fallback option, adds to their strategy of increased flexibility.