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Adaptive evolution toward larger size in mammals

Baker, J. ORCID:, Meade, A., Pagel, M. ORCID: and Venditti, C. (2015) Adaptive evolution toward larger size in mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (16). pp. 5093-5098. ISSN 0027-8424

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1419823112


The notion that large body size confers some intrinsic advantage to biological species has been debated for centuries. Using a phylogenetic statistical approach that allows the rate of body size evolution to vary across a phylogeny, we find a long-term directional bias toward increasing size in the mammals. This pattern holds separately in 10 of 11 orders for which sufficient data are available and arises from a tendency for accelerated rates of evolution to produce increases, but not decreases, in size. On a branch-by-branch basis, increases in body size have been more than twice as likely as decreases, yielding what amounts to millions and millions of years of rapid and repeated increases in size away from the small ancestral mammal. These results are the first evidence, to our knowledge, from extant species that are compatible with Cope’s rule: the pattern of body size increase through time observed in the mammalian fossil record. We show that this pattern is unlikely to be explained by several nonadaptive mechanisms for increasing size and most likely represents repeated responses to new selective circumstances. By demonstrating that it is possible to uncover ancient evolutionary trends from a combination of a phylogeny and appropriate statistical models, we illustrate how data from extant species can complement paleontological accounts of evolutionary history, opening up new avenues of investigation for both.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:61345
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences


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