Lampreys and hagfishes are the sole surviving representatives of the early agnathan (jawless) stage in vertebrate evolution, which has previously been regarded as the least encephalized group of all vertebrates. Very little is known, however, about the extent of interspecific variation in relative brain size in these fishes, as previous studies have focused on only a few species, even though lampreys exhibit a variety of life history traits. While some species are parasitic as adults, with varying feeding behaviors, others (nonparasitic species) do not feed after completing their macrophagous freshwater larval phase. In addition, some parasitic species remain in freshwater, while others undergo an anadromous migration. On the basis of data for postmetamorphic individuals representing approximately 40% of all lamprey species, with representatives from each of the three families, the aforementioned differences in life history traits are reflected in variations in relative brain size. Across all lampreys, brain mass increases with body mass with a scaling factor or slope (α) of 0.35, which is less than those calculated for different groups of gnathostomatous (jawed) vertebrates (α = 0.43-0.62). When parasitic and nonparasitic species are analyzed separately, with phylogeny taken into account, the scaling factors of both groups (parasitic α = 0.43, nonparasitic α = 0.45) approach those of gnathostomes. The relative brain size in fully grown adults of parasitic species is, however, less than that of the adults of nonparasitic species, paralleling differences between fully grown adults and recently metamorphosed individuals of anadromous species. The average degree of encephalization is found in anadromous parasitic lampreys and might thus represent the ancestral condition for extant lampreys. These results suggest that the degree of encephalization in lampreys varies according to both life history traits and phylogenetic relationships.

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