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  1. Abstract

    Metabolism, a metric of the energy cost of behavior, plays a significant role in social evolution. Body size and metabolic scaling are coupled, and a socioecological pattern of increased body size is associated with dietary change and the formation of larger and more complex groups. These consequences of the adaptive radiation of animal societies beg questions concerning energy expenses, a substantial portion of which may involve the metabolic rates of brains that process social information. Brain size scales with body size, but little is understood about brain metabolic scaling. Social insects such as ants show wide variation in worker body size and morphology that correlates with brain size, structure, and worker task performance, which is dependent on sensory inputs and information-processing ability to generate behavior. Elevated production and maintenance costs in workers may impose energetic constraints on body size and brain size that are reflected in patterns of metabolic scaling. Models of brain evolution do not clearly predict patterns of brain metabolic scaling, nor do they specify its relationship to task performance and worker ergonomic efficiency, two key elements of social evolution in ants. Brain metabolic rate is rarely recorded and, therefore, the conditions under which brain metabolism influencesmore »the evolution of brain size are unclear. We propose that studies of morphological evolution, colony social organization, and worker ergonomic efficiency should be integrated with analyses of species-specific patterns of brain metabolic scaling to advance our understanding of brain evolution in ants.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 15, 2023
  3. Current methods used to quantify brain size and compartmental scaling relationships in studies of social insect brain evolution involve manual annotations of images from histological samples, confocal microscopy or other sources. This process is susceptible to human bias and error and requires time-consuming effort by expert annotators. Standardized brain atlases, constructed through 3D registration and automatic segmentation, surmount these issues while increasing throughput to robustly sample diverse morphological and behavioral phenotypes. Here we design and evaluate three strategies to construct statistical brain atlases, or templates, using ants as a model taxon. The first technique creates a template by registering multiple brains of the same species. Brain regions are manually annotated on the template, and the labels are transformed back to each individual brain to obtain an automatic annotation, or to any other brain aligned with the template. The second strategy also creates a template from multiple brain images but obtains labels as a consensus from multiple manual annotations of individual brains comprising the template. The third technique is based on a template comprising brains from multiple species and the consensus of their labels. We used volume similarity as a metric to evaluate the automatic segmentation produced by each method againstmore »the inter- and intra-individual variability of human expert annotators. We found that automatic and manual methods are equivalent in volume accuracy, making the template technique an extraordinary tool to accelerate data collection and reduce human bias in the study of the evolutionary neurobiology of ants and other insects.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 17, 2023
  4. Abstract

    Larger animals studied during ontogeny, across populations, or across species, usually have lower mass-specific metabolic rates than smaller animals (hypometric scaling). This pattern is usually observed regardless of physiological state (e.g., basal, resting, field, and maximally active). The scaling of metabolism is usually highly correlated with the scaling of many life-history traits, behaviors, physiological variables, and cellular/molecular properties, making determination of the causation of this pattern challenging. For across-species comparisons of resting and locomoting animals (but less so for across populations or during ontogeny), the mechanisms at the physiological and cellular level are becoming clear. Lower mass-specific metabolic rates of larger species at rest are due to (a) lower contents of expensive tissues (brains, liver, and kidneys), and (b) slower ion leak across membranes at least partially due to membrane composition, with lower ion pump ATPase activities. Lower mass-specific costs of larger species during locomotion are due to lower costs for lower-frequency muscle activity, with slower myosin and Ca++ ATPase activities, and likely more elastic energy storage. The evolutionary explanation(s) for hypometric scaling remain(s) highly controversial. One subset of evolutionary hypotheses relies on constraints on larger animals due to changes in geometry with size; for example, lower surface-to-volume ratiosmore »of exchange surfaces may constrain nutrient or heat exchange, or lower cross-sectional areas of muscles and tendons relative to body mass ratios would make larger animals more fragile without compensation. Another subset of hypotheses suggests that hypometric scaling arises from biotic interactions and correlated selection, with larger animals experiencing less selection for mass-specific growth or neurolocomotor performance. An additional third type of explanation comes from population genetics. Larger animals with their lower effective population sizes and subsequent less effective selection relative to drift may have more deleterious mutations, reducing maximal performance and metabolic rates. Resolving the evolutionary explanation for the hypometric scaling of metabolism and associated variables is a major challenge for organismal and evolutionary biology. To aid progress, we identify some variation in terminology use that has impeded cross-field conversations on scaling. We also suggest that promising directions for the field to move forward include (1) studies examining the linkages between ontogenetic, population-level, and cross-species allometries; (2) studies linking scaling to ecological or phylogenetic context; (3) studies that consider multiple, possibly interacting hypotheses; and (4) obtaining better field data for metabolic rates and the life history correlates of metabolic rate such as lifespan, growth rate, and reproduction.

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  5. Human brain size nearly quadrupled in the six million years since Homo last shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees, but human brains are thought to have decreased in volume since the end of the last Ice Age. The timing and reason for this decrease is enigmatic. Here we use change-point analysis to estimate the timing of changes in the rate of hominin brain evolution. We find that hominin brains experienced positive rate changes at 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago, coincident with the early evolution of Homo and technological innovations evident in the archeological record. But we also find that human brain size reduction was surprisingly recent, occurring in the last 3,000 years. Our dating does not support hypotheses concerning brain size reduction as a by-product of body size reduction, a result of a shift to an agricultural diet, or a consequence of self-domestication. We suggest our analysis supports the hypothesis that the recent decrease in brain size may instead result from the externalization of knowledge and advantages of group-level decision-making due in part to the advent of social systems of distributed cognition and the storage and sharing of information. Humans live in social groups in which multiple brains contributemore »to the emergence of collective intelligence. Although difficult to study in the deep history of Homo , the impacts of group size, social organization, collective intelligence and other potential selective forces on brain evolution can be elucidated using ants as models. The remarkable ecological diversity of ants and their species richness encompasses forms convergent in aspects of human sociality, including large group size, agrarian life histories, division of labor, and collective cognition. Ants provide a wide range of social systems to generate and test hypotheses concerning brain size enlargement or reduction and aid in interpreting patterns of brain evolution identified in humans. Although humans and ants represent very different routes in social and cognitive evolution, the insights ants offer can broadly inform us of the selective forces that influence brain size.« less