ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Mammals of Borneo – small size on a large island


Shai Meiri, NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, UK.
E-mail: s.meiri@imperial.ac.uk


Aim  Island mammals have featured prominently in models of the evolution of body size. Most of these models examine size evolution across a wide range of islands in order to test which island characteristics influence evolutionary pathways. Here, we examine the mammalian fauna of a single island, Borneo, where previous work has detected that some mammal species have evolved a relatively small size. We test whether Borneo is characterized by smaller mammals than adjacent areas, and examine possible causes for the different trajectories of size evolution between different Bornean species.

Location  Sundaland: Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Malay/Thai Peninsula.

Methods  We compared the mammalian body size frequency distributions in the four areas to examine whether the large mammal fauna of Borneo is more depauperate than elsewhere. We measured specimens belonging to 54 mammal species that are shared between Borneo and any of the other areas in order to determine whether there is an intraspecific tendency for Bornean mammals to evolve small body size. Using data on diet, body size and geographical ranges we examine factors that are thought to influence body size.

Results  Borneo has fewer large mammals than the other areas, but this is not statistically significant. Large Bornean mammals are significantly smaller than their conspecifics in the other regions, while there are no differences between the body sizes of mammals on Sumatra, Java and the Malay/Thai Peninsula. The finding that large mammals show the greatest size difference between Borneo and elsewhere contrasts with some models of size evolution on islands of different areas. Diet does not correlate with the degree of size reduction. Sunda region endemics show a weaker tendency to be small on Borneo than do widespread species.

Main conclusions  We suggest that soil quality may drive size evolution by affecting primary productivity. On Borneo, where soils are generally poor in nutrients, this may both limit biomass and cause mammals to be reduced in body size. We hypothesize that widespread species respond to low resource abundance by reducing in size, while endemic elements of the fauna have had longer to adjust to local conditions by altering their behaviour, physiology and/or ecology, and are thus similar in size across the region.