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Body mass evolution and diversification within horses (family Equidae)



Horses (family Equidae) are a classic example of adaptive radiation, exhibiting a nearly 60-fold increase in maximum body mass and a peak taxonomic diversity of nearly 100 species across four continents. Such patterns are commonly attributed to niche competition, in which increased taxonomic diversity drives increased size disparity. However, neutral processes, such as macroevolutionary ‘diffusion’, can produce similar increases in disparity without increased diversity. Using a comprehensive database of Equidae species size estimates and a common mathematical framework, we measure the contributions of diversity-driven and diffusion-driven mechanisms for increased disparity during the Equidae radiation. We find that more than 90% of changes in size disparity are attributable to diffusion alone. These results clarify the role of species competition in body size evolution, indicate that morphological disparity and species diversity may be only weakly coupled in general, and demonstrate that large species may evolve from neutral macroevolutionary diffusion processes alone.

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