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Keywords:

  • primates;
  • evolution;
  • brain;
  • olfaction;
  • behavior

Abstract

Primates are usually thought of as “visual” mammals, and several comparative studies have emphasized the role of vision in primate neural and sociocognitive specialization. Here I explore the role of olfactory systems, using phylogenetic analysis of comparative volumetric data. The relative sizes of the main olfactory bulb (MOB) and accessory olfactory bulb (AOB) tend to show different evolutionary patterns in accordance with their different functions. Although there is some evidence of correlated evolution of the two systems, this is apparent in only one clade (the strepsirhines). As predicted, the MOBs correlate predominantly with ecological factors (activity period and diet), while the AOBs correlate with social and mating systems. Related olfactory structures (i.e., the piriform cortex and amygdala) exhibit correlated evolution with the AOBs but not with the MOBs, and the corticobasolateral part of the amygdala exhibits a correlation with social group size in platyrrhines similar to that observed for the AOB. These social system correlations support the idea that there is an olfactory dimension to the concept of the social brain. Am. J. Primatol. 68:545–558, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.