Georg F. Striedter
Sinauer Associates is an imprint of Oxford University Press
The evolution of the brain is a complicated web of similarities and differences between species, held together by a variety of rules and principles. This book provides an in-depth analysis of these principles by utilizing data from a diverse range of vertebrates, while at the same time minimizing the amount of technical detail and terminology used. It is written for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and more senior scientists who already know something about “the brain,” but who want to gain a deeper understanding of how different types of brains evolved over time.
The first part of the book provides a concise overview of the field of evolutionary neuroscience, after which the various groups of vertebrates and the primary brain regions of each are described. The primary focus of the book is on the following questions: which aspects of brain organization are shared by all vertebrates; how the size of brains and bodies changed as vertebrates evolved; how the size of individual brain regions tends to either increase or decrease; how regions can become structurally more (or less) complex; and how the organization of neuronal circuitry develops over time. One of the most important takeaways from these chapters is that changes in brain size over the course of evolution tend to correlate with many other aspects of brain structure and function. These aspects include the relative size of individual brain regions, the complexity of those regions, and the neuronal connections between those regions. The book delves into the rules of brain development and questions how changes in brain structure impact function and behavior in an effort to explain the correlations that have been found. The penultimate two chapters demonstrate the application of these rules by focusing on how the brains of mammals differed from the brains of other animals and how the brain of Homo sapiens evolved to be very large and “special.”