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Predation pressure shapes brain anatomy in the wild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There is remarkable diversity in brain anatomy among vertebrates and evidence is accumulating that predatory interactions are crucially important for this diversity. To test this hypothesis, we collected female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) from 16 wild populations and related their brain anatomy to several aspects of predation pressure in this ecosystem, such as the biomass of the four major predators of guppies (one prawn and three fish species), and predator diversity (number of predatory fish species in each site). We found that populations from localities with higher prawn biomass had relatively larger telencephalon size as well as larger brains. Optic tectum size was positively associated with one of the fish predator’s biomass and with overall predator diversity. However, both olfactory bulb and hypothalamus size were negatively associated with the biomass of another of the fish predators. Hence, while fish predator occurrence is associated with variation in brain anatomy, prawn occurrence is associated with variation in brain size. Our results suggest that cognitive challenges posed by local differences in predator communities may lead to changes in prey brain anatomy in the wild.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619–633
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date12 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

    Research areas

  • Brain anatomy, Brain size, Cognitive ability, Guppy, Predation

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