Costs of developing complex brains and their cognitive benefits in a cichlid fish

As the main component of the nervous system, the brain is the centre of information perception, processing, storage, and decision-making. Growing and maintaining neural tissue is, however, energetically costly. In humans, for instance, each brain tissue unit needs about 22 times the amount of metabolic energy used to maintain an equivalent unit of muscle tissue. Growing a brain is thus constrained by the individual’s total energy budget. There is a potential existence of an energy trade-off manifested by a selective energy investment in the brain. The depleted energy for brain use can, as a result, have some consequences for other expensive tissues and functions, e.g., the gut, liver, immunity and growth. My team and I are using a freshwater African cichlid fish, Neolamprologus pulcher, to study the trade-offs between investment in expensive tissues and cognitive abilities within species. We are combining various methods and techniques from different disciplines to unravel how and when individuals allocate energy to develop more complex brains and what are the subsequent cognitive benefits.


Project supported by an SNF Ambizione grant.