Testing the Island Rule: Primates as a case study

Welch JJ

(2009) Proc Roy Soc B 276, 675-682.

The Island Rule states that after island colonisation, larger animals tend to evolve reduced body sizes and smaller animals increased sizes. Recently, there has been disagreement about how often, if ever, this rule applies in nature, and much of this disagreement stems from differences in the statistical tests employed. This study shows how different tests of the island rule assume different null hypotheses, and that these rely on quite different biological assumptions. Analysis and simulation are then used to quantify the biases in the tests. Many widely used tests are shown to yield false support for the Island Rule when island and mainland evolution are indistinguishable, and so a Monte Carlo permutation test is introduced that avoids this problem. It is further shown that tests based on independent contrasts lack power to detect the Island Rule under certain conditions. Finally, a complete reanalysis is presented of recent data from primates. When head-body length is used as the measure of body size, reports of the Island Rule are shown to stem from methodological artefacts. But when skull length or body mass are used, all tests agree that the Island Rule does hold in primates.

doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1180

Andrew Rambaut, 2007