Body size of insular carnivores: Little support for the island rule

Shai Meiri*, Tamar Dayan, Daniel Simberloff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Large mammals are thought to evolve to be smaller on islands, whereas small mammals grow larger. A negative correlation between relative size of island individuals and body mass is termed the "island rule." Several mechanisms - mainly competitive release, resource limitation, dispersal ability, and lighter predation pressure on islands, as well as a general physiological advantage of modal size - have been advanced to explain this pattern. We measured skulls and teeth of terrestrial members of the order Carnivora in order to analyze patterns of body size evolution between insular populations and their near mainland conspecifics. No correlations were found between the size ratios of insular/mainland carnivore species and body mass. Only little support for the island rule is found when individual populations rather than species are considered. Our data are at odds with those advanced in support of theories of optimal body size. Carnivore size is subjected to a host of selective pressures that do not vary uniformly from place to place. Mass alone cannot account for the patterns in body size of insular carnivores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-479
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Body size
  • Carnivora
  • Geographic variation
  • Island rule
  • Optimal body size


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