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PLoS Biol. 2006 Oct;4(10):e321.

Morphological evolution is accelerated among island mammals.

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Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Erratum in

  • PLoS Biol. 2006 Nov;4(11):e384.


Dramatic evolutionary changes occur in species isolated on islands, but it is not known if the rate of evolution is accelerated on islands relative to the mainland. Based on an extensive review of the literature, I used the fossil record combined with data from living species to test the hypothesis of an accelerated morphological evolution among island mammals. I demonstrate that rates of morphological evolution are significantly greater--up to a factor of 3.1--for islands than for mainland mammal populations. The tendency for faster evolution on islands holds over relatively short time scales--from a few decades up to several thousands of years--but not over larger ones--up to 12 million y. These analyses form the first empirical test of the long held supposition of accelerated evolution among island mammals. Moreover, this result shows that mammal species have the intrinsic capacity to evolve faster when confronted with a rapid change in their environment. This finding is relevant to our understanding of species' responses to isolation and destruction of natural habitats within the current context of rapid climate warming.

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