Background: A great deal of experimental research supports strong associations between exercise, cognition, neurogenesis and neuroprotection in mammals. Much of this work has focused on neurogenesis in individual subjects in a limited number of species. However, no study to date has examined the relationship between exercise and neurobiology across a wide range of mammalian taxa. It is possible that exercise and neurobiology are related across evolutionary time. To test this hypothesis, this study examines the association between exercise and brain size across a wide range of mammals.
Methodology/principal findings: Controlling for associations with body size, we examined the correlation between brain size and a proxy for exercise frequency and capacity, maximum metabolic rate (MMR; ml O(2) min(-1)). We collected brain sizes and MMRs from the literature and calculated residuals from the least-squares regression line describing the relationship between body mass and each variable of interest. We then analyzed the correlation between residual brain size and residual MMR both before and after controlling for phylogeny using phylogenetic independent contrasts. We found a significant positive correlation between maximum metabolic rate and brain size across a wide range of taxa.
Conclusions: These results suggest a novel hypothesis that links brain size to the evolution of locomotor behaviors in a wide variety of mammalian species. In the end, we suggest that some portion of brain size in nonhuman mammals may have evolved in conjunction with increases in exercise capacity rather than solely in response to selection related to cognitive abilities.