Wouter van der Bijl

Recent Publications

. Dogs, but not wolves, lose their sensitivity towards novelty with age. On bioRxiv., 2018.

Preprint PDF

. Breakdown of brain–body allometry and the encephalization of birds and mammals. In Nat Eco Evo., 2018.

Dataset Journal

. Brain size affects performance in a reversal-learning test. In ProcB., 2018.


. Revisiting the social brain hypothesis: contest duration depends on loser's brain size. On bioRxiv., 2018.

Preprint PDF

. Evolution of brain region volumes during artificial selection for relative brain size. In Evolution., 2017.


. Female brain size affects the assessment of male attractiveness during mate choice. In Sci Adv., 2017.


. Timing of diapause termination in relation to variation in winter climate. In Phys Ent., 2017.


. No association between brain size and male sexual behavior in the guppy. In Current Zoology., 2015.


. Brain size affects the behavioural response to predators in female guppies (Poecilia reticulata). In Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 2015.


Selected Publications

The allometric relationship between brain and body size among vertebrates is often considered a manifestation of evolutionary constraints. However, birds and mammals have undergone remarkable encephalization, in which brain size has increased without corresponding changes in body size. Here, we explore the hypothesis that a reduction of phenotypic integration between brain and body size has facilitated encephalization in birds and mammals. Using a large dataset comprising 20,213 specimens across 4,587 species of jawed vertebrates, we show that the among-species (evolutionary) brain–body allometries are remarkably constant, both across vertebrate classes and across taxonomic levels. Birds and mammals, however, are exceptional in that their within-species (static) allometries are shallower and more variable than in other vertebrates. These patterns are consistent with the idea that birds and mammals have reduced allometric constraints that are otherwise ubiquitous across jawed vertebrates. Further exploration of ontogenetic allometries in selected taxa of birds, fishes and mammals reveals that birds and mammals have extended the period of fetal brain growth compared to fishes. Based on these findings, we propose that avian and mammalian encephalization has been contingent on increased variability in brain growth patterns.
In Nat Eco Evo., 2018

Background: Brain size is expected to evolve by a balance between cognitive benefits and energetic costs. Several influential hypotheses have suggested that large brains may be especially beneficial in social contexts. Group living and competition may pose unique cognitive challenges to individuals and favor the evolution of increased cognitive ability. Evidence comes from comparative studies on the link between social complexity and brain morphology, but the strength of empirical support has recently been challenged. In addition, the behavioral mechanisms that would link cognitive ability to sociality are rarely studied. Here we take an alternative approach and investigate experimentally how brain size can relate to the social competence of individuals within species, a problem that so far has remained unresolved. We use the unique guppy brain size selection line model system to evaluate whether large brains are advantageous by allowing individuals to better assess their performance in a social contest situation. Based on theoretical literature, we predict that contest duration should depend on the brain size of the loser, as it is the capitulation of the losing individual that ends the fight. Results: First, we show that studying the movement of competitors during contests allows for precise estimation of the dominance timeline in guppies, even when overt aggression is typically one-sided and delayed. Second, we staged contests between pairs of male that had been artificially selected for large and small relative brain size, with demonstrated differences in cognitive ability. We show that dominance was established much earlier in contests with large-brained losers, whereas the brain size of the winner had no effect. Following our prediction, large-brained individuals gave up more quickly when they were going to lose. Conclusions: These results suggest that large-brained individuals assess their performance in contests better and that social competence indeed can depend on brain size. Conflict resolution may therefore be an important behavioral mechanism behind macro-evolutionary patterns between sociality and brain size. Since conflict is ubiquitous among group-living animals, the possible effects of the social environment on the evolution of cognition may be more broadly applicable than previously thought.
On bioRxiv., 2018

Confirmatory path analysis allows researchers to evaluate and compare causal models using observational data. This tool has great value for comparative biologists since they are often unable to gather experimental data on macro-evolutionary hypotheses, but is cumbersome and error-prone to perform. I introduce phylopath, an R package that implements phylogenetic path analysis (PPA) as described by von Hardenberg & Gonzalez-Voyer (2013). In addition to the published method, I provide support for the inclusion of binary variables. I illustrate PPA and phylopath by recreating part of a study on the relationship between brain size and vulnerability to extinction. The package aims to make the analysis straight-forward, providing convenience functions, and several plotting methods, which I hope will encourage the spread of the method.
In PeerJ., 2018

Large brains are thought to result from selection for cognitive benefits, but how enhanced cognition leads to increased fitness remains poorly understood. One explanation is that increased cognitive ability results in improved monitoring and assessment of predator threats. Here, we use male and female guppies (Poecilia reticulata), artificially selected for large and small brain size, to provide an experimental evaluation of this hypothesis. We examined their behavioural response as singletons, pairs or shoals of four towards a model predator. Large-brained females, but not males, spent less time performing predator inspections, an inherently risky behaviour. Video analysis revealed that large-brained females were further away from the model predator when in pairs but that they habituated quickly towards the model when in shoals of four. Males stayed further away from the predator model than females but again we found no brain size effect in males. We conclude that differences in brain size affect the female predator response. Large-brained females might be able to assess risk better or need less sensory information to reach an accurate conclusion. Our results provide experimental support for the general idea that predation pressure is likely to be important for the evolution of brain size in prey species.
In Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 2015


R packages

See my GitHub profile for my publicly available code.

In particular:


I will be teaching this year: