New findings by neurobiologists at the University of Washington suggest that both patterns are important. The researchers found that bigger-bodied social wasps had larger brains and devoted up to three times more of their brain tissue to regions that coordinate social interactions, learning, memory and other complex behaviors.
Within a species, queens had larger central processing areas – the brain regions that manage complex behaviors – than did worker wasps.
“As the brain gets larger, there’s disproportionately greater investment in the size of brain tissue for higher-order cognitive abilities,” said Sean O’Donnell, lead author and UW psychology professor. “As larger wasp brains evolve, natural selection favors investing most heavily in the brain regions involved in learning and memory.”
For smaller-brained species, cognitive power may be limited by their inability to invest in central brain regions. “In many kinds of animals, it’s only with a larger brain – which is determined by body size – that more complex and flexible behaviors are achieved,” O’Donnell said.
The results appear in the April 11 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
O’Donnell and his co-authors collected samples of 10 types of adult social wasps from four field sites in Costa Rica and Ecuador. As in other studies, they found that the larger the wasp, the larger the overall brain size. But increase of brain size was not uniform across all brain regions.
The researchers dissected the wasp brains and measured the volume of two brain regions. They focused on the central processing region known as the mushroom bodies that, like the cerebral cortex in humans, handles elaborate cognitive functions such as learning, memory and social interactions. They also measured the peripheral processing regions – the optic lobes and the antennal lobes – that deal with vision and smell and are thought to perform more basic cognitive functions.
Across the 10 species, brain areas that process peripheral sensory information increased only slightly with overall brain size. But the wasps with larger bodies – and correspondingly larger-sized brains – had disproportionately larger central processing regions.
“These findings suggest that absolute brain size matters a lot, because it sets limits on central cognitive processing tissue,” O’Donnell said.
The researchers also found that in nine out of 10 wasp species, the queens had larger central processors than worker wasps. This was surprising to the researchers because, in social wasps, queens seem to not perform complex tasks like food collection. They’re relatively inactive, staying in the nest to lay eggs while the workers go out to forage.
But O’Donnell said the greater brain power possessed by social wasp queens may be due to having to defend their social status. “Queens are constantly tested for their potency. They must be up for those social cognitive demands,” he said.
The researchers are now testing the prediction that large-brained species will have enhanced cognitive abilities compared with smaller-brained species, which could have ecological payoffs for challenges like invading new habitats and expanding their geographic range.
The National Science Foundation and the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology funded the study. Co-authors are Yamile Molina, who received a doctorate in psychology at UW, and Marie Clifford, a UW biology graduate student.For more information, contact O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-543-2315.
O’Donnell | Newswise Science News
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy