Brain size and ecology in small mammals



Relative brain size (measured as gross brain size after body size effects are removed) differs systematically between families of rodents, insectivores and lagomorphs. The Sciuridae have the largest relative brain size, the Soricidae and Bathyergidae the smallest.

These results are discussed and compared with previous analyses of relative brain sizes among primates and bats. These differences complicate comparisons between relative brain size across phylogenetically diverse species and attempts to relate differences in relative brain size to ecological variables. To overcome these problems, best fit relationships were estimated for each family, and values for each genus were expressed as deviations from the lines of best fit. We refer to these values as Comparative Brain Size (CBS).

Differences in CBS are related to differences in habitat type (forest-dwelling genera have larger CBS' than grassland forms), in diet (folivores have smaller CBS' than generalists or insectivores, frugivores and granivores), in zonation (arboreal genera have larger CBS' than terrestrial ones) and in activity timing (nocturnal genera have larger CBS' than dirurnal ones). However, these ecological categories are interrelated and, when the effects of other ecological differences are taken into account using analyses of variance, only the differences associated with diet, and possibly habitat remain.