Thursday, November 08, 2007

When Animals Evolve On Islands, Size Doesn't Matter

The island rule: made to be broken?. 2007. S. Meiri, et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, early on-line publication

From the press release:

A new study refutes the ‘island rule’ which says that in island environments small mammals such as rodents tend to evolve to be larger, and large mammals such as elephants tend to evolve to be smaller, with the original size of the species being the key determining factor in these changes.

The new research findings suggest that the tendency to either evolve larger or smaller on islands varies from one group of species to another, irrespective of original size. The research team suspect instead that a number of external factors, including the physical environment of the particular island, the availability of prey, the presence of predators and the presence of competing species all play a role in determining the size evolution of island mammals.

“Our analyses showed that the relationship between mammal size and evolutionary size change on islands is not that straightforward. Crucially, when we examined size change in light of the evolutionary relationship between different species, there was no connection between an evolution towards large size and greater degree of dwarfism on islands, or between evolution towards small size and island gigantism.”

The research team concluded that although there does appear to be a weak correlation between the size of a mammal and how its size then evolves in an island habitat, this reflects some groups’ specific tendencies towards gigantism or dwarfism, and not the general course of evolution.