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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jul 27;366(1574):2086-99. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0336.

Neural mechanisms underlying the evolvability of behaviour.

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Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University, PO Box 5030, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.


The complexity of nervous systems alters the evolvability of behaviour. Complex nervous systems are phylogenetically constrained; nevertheless particular species-specific behaviours have repeatedly evolved, suggesting a predisposition towards those behaviours. Independently evolved behaviours in animals that share a common neural architecture are generally produced by homologous neural structures, homologous neural pathways and even in the case of some invertebrates, homologous identified neurons. Such parallel evolution has been documented in the chromatic sensitivity of visual systems, motor behaviours and complex social behaviours such as pair-bonding. The appearance of homoplasious behaviours produced by homologous neural substrates suggests that there might be features of these nervous systems that favoured the repeated evolution of particular behaviours. Neuromodulation may be one such feature because it allows anatomically defined neural circuitry to be re-purposed. The developmental, genetic and physiological mechanisms that contribute to nervous system complexity may also bias the evolution of behaviour, thereby affecting the evolvability of species-specific behaviour.

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