Reassessing the Relationship between Brain Size, Life History, and Metabolism at the Marsupial/Placental Dichotomy

Vera Weisbecker, Anjali Goswami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


A vigorous discussion surrounds the question as to what enables some mammals-including primates and cetaceans-to evolve large brains. We recently published a study suggesting that the radiation of marsupial mammals is highly relevant to this question because of the unique reproductive and metabolic traits within this clade. In particular, we controversially suggested that marsupial brain sizes are not systematically smaller than those of placentals, and that elevated basal metabolic rates (BMR) are not linked to larger marsupial brains. As our dataset was found to contain some erroneous body size data, derived from a published source, we here use an updated and corrected dataset and employ standard as well as phylogenetically corrected analyses to re-assess and elaborate on our original conclusions. Our proposal that marsupials are not systematically smaller-brained than placentals remains supported, particularly when the unusually large-brained placental clade, Primates, is excluded. Use of the new dataset not only confirms that high metabolic rates are not associated with larger brain size in marsupials, but we additionally find some support for a striking negative correlation between BMR and brain size. The best supported correlates of large brain size remain the reproductive traits of weaning age and litter size. These results support our suggestion that mammalian brain sizes (including, by inference, those of monotremes) are predominantly constrained by the ability of females to fuel the growth of their offspring's large brains, rather than by the maintenance requirements of the adult brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-612
Number of pages5
JournalZoological Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • brain
  • evolution
  • life history
  • marsupials
  • reproduction


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