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Evolution. 2004 Jun;58(6):1353-60.

Climate change and size evolution in an island rodent species: new perspectives on the island rule.

Author information

  • 1Redpath Museum, McGill University, 859 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada. virginie.millien@mail.mcgill.ca


As stated by the island rule, small mammals evolve toward gigantism on islands. In addition they are known to evolve faster than their mainland counterparts. Body size in island mammals may also be influenced by geographical climatic gradients or climatic change through time. We tested the relative effects of climate change and isolation on the size of the Japanese rodent Apodemus speciosus and calculated evolutionary rates of body size change since the last glacial maximum (LGM). Currently A. speciosus populations conform both to Bergmann's rule, with an increase in body size with latitude, and to the island rule, with larger body sizes on small islands. We also found that fossil representatives of A. speciosus are larger than their extant relatives. Our estimated evolutionary rates since the LGM show that body size evolution on the smaller islands has been less than half as rapid as on Honshu, the mainland-type large island of Japan. We conclude that island populations exhibit larger body sizes today not because they have evolved toward gigantism, but because their evolution toward a smaller size, due to climate warming since the LGM, has been decelerated by the island effect. These combined results suggest that evolution in Quaternary island small mammals may not have been as fast as expected by the island effect because of the counteracting effect of climate change during this period.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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