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Nutritional constraints on brain evolution: sodium and nitrogen limit brain size

Citation

Snell-Rood, Emilie et al. (2020), Nutritional constraints on brain evolution: sodium and nitrogen limit brain size, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.h18931zhs

Abstract

Nutrition has been hypothesized as an important constraint on brain evolution. However, it is unclear whether the availability of specific nutrients or the difficulty of locating high quality diets limits brain evolution, especially over long periods of time. We show that dietary nutrient content predicted brain size across 42 species of butterflies. Brain size, relative to body size, was associated with the sodium and nitrogen content of a species’ diet. There was no evidence that host plant apparency (measured by plant height) was related to brain evolution. The timing of diet shifts varied from 3.5 to 90 million years ago, but nutritional constraints did not lessen over time as species adapted to a diet. While nutrition was linked to overall brain volume, there was no evidence that nutrition was related to the relative size of individual brain regions. Lab rearing experiments confirmed the underlying assumption of most comparative studies that the majority of interspecific trait variation stems from species differences rather than an individual’s current developmental environment. This study highlights a novel role of sodium and nitrogen in brain evolution, which is additionally interesting given current anthropogenic change in the availability of these nutrients.

Methods

Brain volumes of 99 individuals of 42 species of butterflies collected around the United States. Brain mass of lab-reared individuals from four butterfly species. Please see methods of paper for additional details. 

Usage Notes

Please see tab in excel file describing each column heading.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: 1306627

National Science Foundation, Award: 1354737

University of Minnesota

DIVERSITAS/Future Earth

German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research

DIVERSITAS/Future Earth

German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research