Of mice and mammoths: generality and antiquity of the island rule


Correspondence: Mark V. Lomolino, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, 1 Forestry Drive, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA.

E-mail: island@esf.edu



We assessed the generality of the island rule in a database comprising 1593 populations of insular mammals (439 species, including 63 species of fossil mammals), and tested whether observed patterns differed among taxonomic and functional groups.


Islands world-wide.


We measured museum specimens (fossil mammals) and reviewed the literature to compile a database of insular animal body size (Si = mean mass of individuals from an insular population divided by that of individuals from an ancestral or mainland population, M). We used linear regressions to investigate the relationship between Si and M, and ANCOVA to compare trends among taxonomic and functional groups.


Si was significantly and negatively related to the mass of the ancestral or mainland population across all mammals and within all orders of extant mammals analysed, and across palaeo-insular (considered separately) mammals as well. Insular body size was significantly smaller for bats and insectivores than for the other orders studied here, but significantly larger for mammals that utilized aquatic prey than for those restricted to terrestrial prey.

Main conclusions

The island rule appears to be a pervasive pattern, exhibited by mammals from a broad range of orders, functional groups and time periods. There remains, however, much scatter about the general trend; this residual variation may be highly informative as it appears consistent with differences among species, islands and environmental characteristics hypothesized to influence body size evolution in general. The more pronounced gigantism and dwarfism of palaeo-insular mammals, in particular, is consistent with a hypothesis that emphasizes the importance of ecological interactions (time in isolation from mammalian predators and competitors was 0.1 to > 1.0 Myr for palaeo-insular mammals, but < 0.01 Myr for extant populations of insular mammals). While ecological displacement may be a major force driving diversification in body size in high-diversity biotas, ecological release in species-poor biotas often results in the convergence of insular mammals on the size of intermediate but absent species.