At the proximate level, hormones are known to play a critical role in influencing the life history of mammals, including humans. The pituitary gland is directly responsible for producing several hormones, including those related to growth and reproduction. Although we have a basic understanding of how hormones affect life history characteristics, we still have little knowledge of this relationship in an evolutionary context. We used data from 129 mammal species representing 14 orders to investigate the relationship between pituitary gland size and life history variation. Because pituitary gland size should be related to hormone production and action, we predicted that species with relatively large pituitaries should be associated with fast life histories, especially increased foetal and post-natal growth rates. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that total pituitary size and the size of the anterior lobe of the pituitary significantly predicted a life history axis that was correlated with several traits including body mass, and foetal and post-natal growth rates. Additional models directly examining the association between relative pituitary size and growth rates produced concordant results. We also found that relative pituitary size variation across mammals was best explained by an Ornstein-Uhlenbeck model of evolution, suggesting an important role of stabilizing selection. Our results support the idea that the size of the pituitary is linked to life history variation through evolutionary time. This pattern is likely due to mediating hormone levels but additional work is needed. We suggest that future investigations incorporating endocrine gland size may be critical for understanding life history evolution.
- Brain evolution
- Growth factor
- Phylogenetic comparative methods
- Proximate mechanisms
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics