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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Oct 7;275(1648):2195-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0354.

Extant mammal body masses suggest punctuated equilibrium.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Umeå University, 90187 Umeå, Sweden.

Abstract

Is gradual microevolutionary change within species simultaneously the source of macroevolutionary differentiation between species? Since its first publication, Darwin's original idea that phenotypic differences between species develop gradually over time, as the accumulation of small selection-induced changes in successive generations has been challenged by palaeontologists claiming that, instead, new species quickly acquire their phenotypes to remain virtually unchanged until going extinct again. This controversy, widely known as the 'punctuated equilibrium' debate, remained unresolved, largely owing to the difficulty of distinguishing biological species from fossil remains. We analysed body masses of 2143 existing mammal species on a phylogeny comprising 4510 (i.e. nearly all) extant species to estimate rates of gradual (anagenetic) and speciational (cladogenetic) evolution. Our Bayesian estimates from mammals as well as separate sub-clades such as primates and carnivores suggest that gradual evolution is responsible for only a small part of body size variation between mammal species.

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