From Anomalous Arteries to Selective Brain Cooling: Parallel Evolution of the Artiodactyl Carotid Rete

Haley D. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Terrestrial artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) inhabit some of the world's most extreme environments, including arid deserts and high elevations. As medium-to-large-bodied mammals, artiodactyls have a suite of specialized physiologies to facilitate occupation of regions unavailable to other large mammals. One such physiology is selective brain cooling, wherein reduction of brain temperature below core body temperature has been demonstrated to reduce evaporative water loss. This physiology is enabled by an arterial heat-exchanger called the carotid rete. The ubiquity of the carotid rete throughout the clade, as well as its evolutionary history, is currently uninvestigated. Here, I use osteological correlates to survey clade-wide presence and morphology of the carotid rete, prior to conducting a preliminary evolutionary analysis. Nearly all living artiodactyls possess a carotid rete and are capable of selective brain cooling; however, major arteries supplying the rete are derived from different embryonic aortic arches on a suborder-specific basis. Ancestral character estimation infers this pattern of variation to be the result of independent evolutionary processes, suggesting carotid rete homoplasy arising via parallelism. This is a surprising finding given the role this structure plays in driving a physiology that has been implicated in mitigating artiodactylan responses to extreme environmental conditions. Future studies should incorporate extinct species represented in the fossil record to better parse between parallel and convergent mechanisms, as well as to better understand the relationship between the carotid rete, selective brain cooling, and survivorship of climate perturbation. Anat Rec, 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-317
Number of pages10
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Artiodactyla
  • ancestral character estimation
  • carotid rete
  • evolutionary
  • homoplasy


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