Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

When ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: Fixed neurodevelopmental sequence of manipulative skills among primates

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Science Advances  24 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 30, eabb4685
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb4685

Abstract

Neural development is highly conserved across distantly related species of different brain sizes. Here, we show that the development of manipulative complexity is equally cumulative across 36 primate species and also that its ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Furthermore, larger-brained species reach their adult skill levels later than smaller-brained ones, largely because they start later with the simplest techniques. These findings demonstrate that these motor behaviors are not modular and that their slow development may constrain their evolution. Complex foraging techniques therefore critically require a slow life history with low mortality, which explains the limited taxonomic distribution of flexible tool use and the unique elaboration of human technology.

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