The Tempo of Mammalian Embryogenesis: Variation in the Pace of Brain and Body Development

Brain Behav Evol. 2022;97(1-2):96-107. doi: 10.1159/000523715. Epub 2022 Feb 21.


Why do some species develop rapidly, while others develop slowly? Mammals are highly variable in the pace of growth and development over every stage of ontogeny, and this basic variable - the pace of ontogeny - is strongly associated with a wide range of phenotypes in adults, including allometric patterns of brain and body size, as well as the pace of neurodevelopment. This analysis describes variation in the pace of embryonic development in eutherian mammals, drawing on a collected dataset of embryogenesis in fifteen species representing rodents, carnivores, ungulates, and primates. Mammals vary in the pace of every stage of embryogenesis, including stages of early zygote differentiation, blastulation and implantation, gastrulation, neurulation, somitogenesis, and later stages of basic limb, facial, and brain development. This comparative review focuses on the general variation of rapid vs. slow mammalian embryogenesis, with a focus on the pace of somite formation, brain vs. somatic development, and how embryonic pacing predicts later features of ontogeny.

Keywords: Brain; Development; Embryo; Evo devo; Evolution.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Carnivora*
  • Embryo, Mammalian*
  • Embryonic Development
  • Female
  • Pregnancy
  • Primates