The Procyonid Social Club: Comparison of Brain Volumes in the Coatimundi (Nasua nasua, N. narica), Kinkajou (Potos flavus), and Racoon (Procyon lotor)

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The present study investigated whether increased relative brain size, including regional brain volumes, is related to differing behavioral specializations exhibited by three member species of the family Procyonidae. Procyonid species exhibit continuums of behaviors related to social and physical environmental complexities: the mostly solitary, semiarboreal and highly dexterous raccoons (Procyon lotor); the exclusively arboreal kinkajous (Potos flavus), which live either alone or in small polyandrous family groups, and the social, terrestrial coatimundi (Nasua nasua, N. narica). Computed tomographic (CT) scans of 45 adult skulls including 17 coatimundis (9 male, 8 female), 14 raccoons (7 male, 7 female), and 14 kinkajous (7 male, 7 female) were used to create three-dimensional virtual endocasts. Endocranial volume was positively correlated with two separate measures of body size: skull basal length (r = 0.78, p < 0.01) and basicranial axis length (r = 0.45, p = 0.002). However, relative brain size (total endocranial volume as a function of body size) varied by species depending on which body size measurement (skull basal length or basicranial axis length) was used. Comparisons of relative regional brain volumes revealed that the anterior cerebrum volume consisting mainly of frontal cortex and surface area was significantly larger in the social coatimundi compared to kinkajous and raccoons. The dexterous raccoon had the largest relative posterior cerebrum volume, which includes the somatosensory cortex, in comparison to the other procyonid species studied. The exclusively arboreal kinkajou had the largest relative cerebellum and brain stem volume in comparison to the semi arboreal raccoon and the terrestrial coatimundi. Finally, intraspecific comparisons failed to reveal any sex differences, except in the social coatimundi. Female coatimundis possessed a larger relative frontal cortical volume than males. Social life histories differ in male and female coatimundis but not in either kinkajous or raccoons. This difference may reflect the differing social life histories experienced by females who reside in their natal bands, and forage and engage in antipredator behavior as a group, while males disperse upon reaching adulthood and are usually solitary thereafter. This analysis in the three procyonid species supports the comparative neurology principle that behavioral specializations correspond to an expansion of neural tissue involved in that function.



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Brain, Behavior and Evolution