In eukaryotes, nuclear genome sizes vary by more than five orders of magnitude. This variation is not related to organismal complexity, and its origin and biological significance are still disputed. One of the open questions is whether genome size has an adaptive role. We tested the hypothesis that genome size has selective significance, using five grassland communities occurring on a gradient of metal pollution of the soil as a model. We detected a negative correlation between the concentration of contaminating metals in the soil and the number of vascular plant species. Analysis of genome sizes of 70 herbaceous dicot perennial species occurring on the investigated plots revealed a negative correlation between the concentration of contaminating metals in the soil and the proportion of species with large genomes in plant communities. Consistent with the hypothesis, these results show that species with large genomes are at selective disadvantage in extreme environmental conditions.