Coevolution of relative brain size and life expectancy in parrots

Simeon Q. Smeele, Dalia A. Conde, Annette Baudisch, Simon Bruslund, Andrew Iwaniuk, Johanna Staerk, Timothy F. Wright, Anna M. Young, Mary Brooke McElreath, Lucy Aplin

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Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated a correlation between longevity and brain size in a variety of taxa. Little research has been devoted to understanding this link in parrots; yet parrots are well-known for both their exceptionally long lives and cognitive complexity. We employed a large-scale comparative analysis that investigated the influence of brain size and life-history variables on longevity in parrots. Specifically, we addressed two hypotheses for evolutionary drivers of longevity: the cognitive buffer hypothesis, which proposes that increased cognitive abilities enable longer lifespans, and the expensive brain hypothesis, which holds that increases in lifespan are caused by prolonged developmental time of, and increased parental investment in, large-brained offspring. We estimated life expectancy from detailed zoo records for 133 818 individuals across 244 parrot species. Using a principled Bayesian approach that addresses data uncertainty and imputation of missing values, we found a consistent correlation between relative brain size and life expectancy in parrots. This correlation was best explained by a direct effect of relative brain size. Notably, we found no effects of developmental time, clutch size or age at first reproduction. Our results suggest that selection for enhanced cognitive abilities in parrots has in turn promoted longer lifespans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20212397
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume289
Issue number1971
Number of pages8
ISSN0962-8452
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30. Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Bayesian structural equation model
  • cognitive buffer hypothesis
  • cognitive evolution
  • expensive brain hypothesis
  • longevity
  • Psittaciformes

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