Complex landscapes made land animals smarter than their aquatic ancestors: Study

Moving onto land 'poured jet fuel on the evolution of the brain', say researchers, since it demanded the hardest possible cognitive operation – envisioning the future.


A new study has revealed that complex landscapes – covered with trees, bushes, boulders and knolls – could have helped land-dwelling animals evolve a more advanced form of intelligence than aquatic creatures.

The research, published on 16 June in Nature Communications and conducted by Northwestern University researchers, claims that land is rife with obstacles in comparison to the vast emptiness of open water.

According to Science Daily, when prey got spaces to hide and predators were provided with cover for sneak attacks, this condition might have given rise to planning strategies. However, there would have been almost no opportunity to plan in a similar scenario in an aquatic habit.

"All animals – on land or in water – had the same amount of time to evolve, so why do land animals have most of the smarts? Our work shows that it's not just about what's in the head but also about what's in the environment,” said Malcolm MacIver, who led the study.

The researchers do not consider dolphins and whales in the category of less intelligent sea creatures as they claim that both are land mammals that recently returned to water, reported Northwesten University press.

According to Phys, earlier research by MacIver shows that when animals started moving to land 385 million years ago, they developed the ability to see roughly hundred times farther than they could in water.

"We speculated that moving onto land poured jet fuel on the evolution of the brain as it may have advantaged the hardest cognitive operation there is: Envisioning the future. It could explain why we can go out for seafood, but seafood can't go out for us," MacIver said.


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