Biogeography of body size in Pacific island birds


  • Alison G. Boyer,

  • Walter Jetz

A. G. Boyer ( and W. Jetz, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale Univ., 165 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06520-8106, USA.


Many insular vertebrates have undergone rapid and dramatic changes in body size compared to their mainland counterparts. Here we explore the relationship between two well known patterns of island body size – the tendency for large-bodied species to dwarf and small-bodied species to get larger on islands, known as the “island rule”, and the scaling of maximum and minimum body size of island assemblages with island area. Drawing on both fossil and modern data, we examined the relationship between body size and island area in Pacific island birds, both within clades and at the island assemblage level. We found that the size of the smallest bird on each island decreased with island area while the maximum body size increased with island area. Similarly, within clades the body size of small-bodied groups decreased and large-bodied groups increased from small to large islands, consistent with the island rule. However, the magnitude of size change within clades was not sufficient to explain the overall scaling of maximum size with island area. Instead, the pattern was driven primarily by the evolution of very large, flightless birds on large islands. Human-mediated extinctions on islands over the past few millennia severely impacted large, flightless birds, to the effect that this macroecological pattern has been virtually erased. After controlling for effects of biogeographic region and island area, we found island productivity to be the best predictor of maximum size in flightless birds. This result, and the striking similarities in maximum body size between flightless birds and island mammals, suggests a common energetic mechanism linking body size and landmass area in both the island rule and the scaling of island body size extremes.