Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    The high energetic costs of building and maintaining large brains are thought to constrain encephalization. The ‘expensive-tissue hypothesis’ (ETH) proposes that primates (especially humans) overcame this constraint through reduction of another metabolically expensive tissue, the gastrointestinal tract. Small guts characterize animals specializing on easily digestible diets. Thus, the hypothesis may be tested via the relationship between brain size and diet quality. Platyrrhine primates present an interesting test case, as they are more variably encephalized than other extant primate clades (excluding Hominoidea). We find a high degree of phylogenetic signal in the data for diet quality, endocranial volume and body size. Controlling for phylogenetic effects, we find no significant correlation between relative diet quality and relative endocranial volume. Thus, diet quality fails to account for differences in platyrrhine encephalization. One taxon, in particular, Brachyteles, violates predictions made by ETH in having a large brain and low-quality diet. Dietary reconstructions of stem platyrrhines further indicate that a relatively high-quality diet was probably in place prior to increases in encephalization. Therefore, it is unlikely that a shift in diet quality was a primary constraint release for encephalization in platyrrhines and, by extrapolation, humans.