Neurobiology of Monotremes


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Details the development, structure, function and behavioural ecology of the monotremes.

Neurobiology of Monotremes brings together current information on the development, structure, function and behavioural ecology of the monotremes. The monotremes are an unusual and evolutionarily important group of mammals showing striking behavioural and physiological adaptations to their niches. They are the only mammals exhibiting electroreception (in the trigeminal sensory pathways) and the echidna shows distinctive olfactory specialisations. + Full description

The authors aim to close the current gap in knowledge between the genes and developmental biology of monotremes on the one hand, and the adult structure, function and ecology of monotremes on the other. They explore how the sequence 'embryonic structure › adult structure › behaviour' is achieved in monotremes and how this differs from other mammals.

The work also combines a detailed review of the neurobiology of monotremes with photographic and diagrammatic atlases of the sectioned adult brains and peripheral nervous system of the short-beaked echidna and platypus. Pairing of a detailed review of the field with the first published brain atlases of two of the three living monotremes will allow the reader to immediately relate key points in the text to features in the atlases and will extend a universal system of brain nomenclature developed in eutherian brain atlases by G Paxinos and colleagues to monotremes.

- Short description


2014 Whitley Award Commendation for Reference Text

No longer available in a print edition.


"Ken Ashwell has produced a superb and lucid text that effectively reviews the state of monotreme neuroscience, articulates current puzzles, and looks toward future experiments."
John Meitzen, Integrative and Comparative Biology, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 87-88

"This is a publication that enriches our understanding, provokes wonder, and makes us want to know more."
Jon H. Kaas, The Quarterly Review of Biology, March 2015, Vol. 90 pp. 93-94

"It is an instant classic that provides a great deal of information previously unavailable, or dispersed through numerous primary literature sources spanning more than two centuries and several western languages. Nobody interested in the evolution of the mammalian brain, monotremes, or extinct archaic mammals can afford to miss this book, as it sets the bar for treatises of this type and offers an agenda for future monotreme research."
Guillermo W. Rougier, Bart G. Borghuis & Jeffrey C. Petruska, “Monotremes Get a Head Start: A Detailed Neurobiology of the Platypus and Echidna”, Journal of Mammalian Evolution, June 2015


ePDF | December 2013
ISBN: 9780643103153
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers


  • Brings together current knowledge on the nervous system of monotremes, which occupy a key position in mammalian evolution
  • Explores the relationship between environment, genes, brain structure, function and behaviour
  • Includes many illustrations
  • Includes text and a glossary to explain pertinent key concepts in neuroscience for non-specialist readers


1. Classification and evolution of the monotremes
2. Behaviour and ecology of the monotremes
3. Monotreme development
4. Overview of monotreme nervous system structure and evolution
5. Peripheral nervous system, spinal cord, brainstem and cerebellum
6. Diencephalon and deep telencephalic structures
7. Cerebral cortex and claustrum/endopiriform complex
8. Visual system
9. Somato- and electrosensory systems
10. Auditory and vestibular systems
11. Chemical senses: olfactory and gustatory systems
12. The hypothalamus, neuroendocrine interface and autonomic regulation
13. Monotremes and the evolution of sleep
14. Reflections: monotreme neurobiology in context
15. Atlas and tables of peripheral nervous system anatomy
16. Atlas of the adult and developing brain and spinal cord of the short-beaked echidna
17. Atlas of the adult and developing brain of the platypus
List of abbreviations used in brain and embryo atlas plates
Index of brain and atlas plates


Ken Ashwell has over 33 years' experience in the neurosciences. He has published over 110 papers in international refereed journals, 23 book chapters and six books. He has also published four atlases in collaboration with George Paxinos and contributed many chapters to prestigious and definitive works on the structure, function and development of the human and mouse nervous systems. He has published over 50 major works (papers, books, book chapters) on comparative neuroscience of Australasian mammals and birds; 26 of these have been on monotreme neuroscience and 26 on marsupial neuroscience.

Craig D Hardman, Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales; AM Musser, Australian Museum, Sydney; Stewart C Nicol, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania.