IMIS | Flanders Marine Institute
 

Flanders Marine Institute

Platform for marine research

IMIS

Publications | Institutes | Persons | Datasets | Projects | Maps
[ report an error in this record ]basket (0): add | show Print this page

The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains
Fox, K.C.R.; Muthukrishna, M.; Shultz, S. (2017). The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1(11): 1699-1705. https://hdl.handle.net/10.1038/s41559-017-0336-y
In: Nature Ecology & Evolution. Springer Nature. ISSN 2397-334X, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

Authors  Top 
  • Fox, K.C.R.
  • Muthukrishna, M.
  • Shultz, S.

Abstract
    Encephalization, or brain expansion, underpins humans’ sophisticated social cognition, including language, joint attention, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy. These abilities promote and stabilize cooperative social interactions, and have allowed us to create a ‘cognitive’ or ‘cultural’ niche and colonize almost every terrestrial ecosystem. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. Here, by evaluating a comprehensive database of brain size, social structures and cultural behaviours across cetacean species, we ask whether cetacean brains are similarly associated with a marine cultural niche. We show that cetacean encephalization is predicted by both social structure and by a quadratic relationship with group size. Moreover, brain size predicts the breadth of social and cultural behaviours, as well as ecological factors (diversity of prey types and to a lesser extent latitudinal range). The apparent coevolution of brains, social structure and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates. Our results suggest that cetacean social cognition might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn and use a diverse set of behavioural strategies in response to the challenges of social living.

All data in the Integrated Marine Information System (IMIS) is subject to the VLIZ privacy policy Top | Authors