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Brain evolution in vertebrates

Brain evolution in vertebrates

Supervisors: Dr Stephen Montgomery

Project summary:

Vertebrate brain size varies by several orders of magnitude, but also masks a hidden diversity of brain structure and cellular composition. How does this variation relate to behavioural evolution and contribute to ecological diversification? And how does selection on behavioural variation interact with developmental constraints to shape how brains evolve?  Comparing brains of ecologically or phylogenetically disperse populations and species provides one way to derive and test hypotheses about how brains evolve. 


What the student will be doing:

This project would suit a creative and attentive student able to identify key problems in existing studies of brain evolution. The approach taken can be tailored to the particular interests of the student. Opportunities exist to investigate:

i) Macroevolutionary trajectories of vertebrate brain size and structure.

ii) Interactions between brain and body size evolution.

iii) Intra-specific variation in brain morphology and the role

 of plasticity in ecological invasions.

iv) Behavioural effects of variation in brain morphology.

v) Genetic and developmental constraints on brain evolution. 



Montgomery SH, Mundy NI, Barton RA. Brain evolution and development: adaptation, allometry and constraint. InProc. R. Soc. B 2016 Sep 14 (Vol. 283, No. 1838, p. 20160433). The Royal Society.

Gonda A, Herczeg G, Merilä J. Evolutionary ecology of intraspecific brain size variation: a review. Ecology and Evolution. 2013 Aug 1;3(8):2751-64.



A project on marine vertebrates is eligible for the Claire Barnes Studentship.