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The evolution of human altriciality and brain development in comparative context

Gomez-Robles, Aida; Nicolaou, Christos; Smaers, Jeroen B; Sherwood, Chet C; (2024) The evolution of human altriciality and brain development in comparative context. Nature Ecology & Evolution , 8 pp. 133-145. 10.1038/s41559-023-02253-z. Green open access

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Abstract

Human newborns are considered altricial compared with other primates because they are relatively underdeveloped at birth. However, in a broader comparative context, other mammals are more altricial than humans. It has been proposed that altricial development evolved secondarily in humans due to obstetrical or metabolic constraints, and in association with increased brain plasticity. To explore this association, we used comparative data from 140 placental mammals to measure how altriciality evolved in humans and other species. We also estimated how changes in brain size and gestation length influenced the timing of neurodevelopment during hominin evolution. Based on our data, humans show the highest evolutionary rate to become more altricial (measured as the proportion of adult brain size at birth) across all placental mammals, but this results primarily from the pronounced postnatal enlargement of brain size rather than neonatal changes. In addition, we show that only a small number of neurodevelopmental events were shifted to the postnatal period during hominin evolution, and that they were primarily related to the myelination of certain brain pathways. These results indicate that the perception of human altriciality is mostly driven by postnatal changes, and they point to a possible association between the timing of myelination and human neuroplasticity.

Type: Article
Title: The evolution of human altriciality and brain development in comparative context
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41559-023-02253-z
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-02253-z
Language: English
Additional information: Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Keywords: Science & Technology, Life Sciences & Biomedicine, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, MATERNAL INVESTMENT, HOMO-ERECTUS, LIFE-HISTORY, SIZE, GROWTH, ENCEPHALIZATION, ORGANIZATION, PLASTICITY, NEOTENY, PRIMATE
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10188743
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