Social bonds in birds are associated with brain size and contingent on the correlated evolution of life-history and increased parental investment
Shultz S., Dunbar RIM.
In birds, large brains are associated with a series of population-level phenomena, including invasion success, species richness, and resilience to population decline. Thus, they appear to open up adaptive opportunities through flexibility in foraging and anti-predator behaviour. The evolutionary pathway leading to large brain size has received less attention than behavioural and ecological correlates. Using a comparative approach, we show that, independent of previously recognized associations with developmental constraints, relative brain size in birds is strongly related to biparental care, pair-bonding, and stable social relationships. We also demonstrate correlated evolution between large relative brain size and altricial development, and that the evolution of both traits is contingent on biparental care. Thus, biparental care facilitates altricial development, which permits the evolution of large relative brain size. Finally, we show that large relative brain size is associated with pair-bond strength, itself a likely consequence of cooperation and negotiation between partners under high levels of parental investment. These analyses provide an evolutionary model for the evolution of and prevalence of biparental care, altricial development, and pair-bonding in birds. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London.