Reproductive strategies, body size, and encephalization in primate evolution

Brian T Shea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In order to understand fully the generally high level of encephalization observed in living primates, we must determine why early primates exhibited moderately large relative brain sizes compared to their early Tertiary contemporaries. The relatively high degree of encephalization in early primates may be related at least in part to the fact that they were highly unusual among mammals in combining a small body size with a strongly precocial reporductive strategy. Other small, precocial mammals also exhibit moderately high levels of encephalization; but primates appear to have been truly unique in being the only such small-sized and highly precocial group to give rise to extensive radiations of larger descendants. This is a key element in understanding primate brain evolution, because the initial "head start" of the early primates was translated up to larger sizes in descendants. The possible relationships among encephalization, precociality, small size, and arboreality are discussed, particularly in light of recent debates concerning the validity of the superorder Archonta. This work emphasizes that we need to consider relative brain size as but one element in a complex synergistic network of morphological and life-history features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1987


  • Archonta
  • allometry
  • brain size
  • precociality
  • primates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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