Annual review of psychology
Neuroecology is the study of adaptive variation in cognition and the brain. The origin of neuroecology dates from the 1980s, when researchers in behavioral ecology began to apply the methods of comparative evolutionary biology to cognitive processes and the underlying neural mechanisms of cognition. The comparative approach, however, is much older. It was a mainstay of ethology, it has been part of the study of neuroanatomy since the seventeenth century, and it was used by Darwin to marshal evidence for the theory of natural selection. Neuroecology examines the relations between ecological selection pressures and species or sex differences in cognition and the brain. The goal of neuroecology is to understand how natural selection acts on cognition and its neural mechanisms. This chapter describes the general approach of neuroecology, phylogenetic comparative methods used in the field, and new findings on the cognitive mechanisms and brain structures involved in mating systems, social organization, communication, and foraging. The contribution of neuroecology to psychology and the neurosciences is the information it provides on the selective pressures that have influenced the evolution of cognition and brain structure.