Small brains predisposed Late Quaternary mammals to extinction

Jacob Dembitzer*, Silvia Castiglione, Pasquale Raia, Shai Meiri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The Late Quaternary witnessed a dramatic wave of large mammal extinctions, that are usually attributed to either human hunting or climatic change. We hypothesized that the large mammals that survived the extinctions might have been endowed with larger brain sizes than their relatives, which could have conferred enhanced behavioral plasticity and the ability to cope with the rapidly changing Late Quaternary environmental conditions. We assembled data on brain sizes of 291 extant mammal species plus 50 more that went extinct during the Late Quaternary. Using logistic, and mixed effect models, and controlling for phylogeny and body mass, we found that large brains were associated with higher probability to survive the Late Quaternary extinctions, and that extant species have brains that are, on average, 53% larger when accounting for order as a random effect, and 83% when fitting a single regression line. Moreover, we found that models that used brain size in addition to body size predicted extinction status better than models that used only body size. We propose that possessing a large brain was an important, yet so far neglected characteristic of surviving megafauna species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3453
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


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