Record Details

Wikelski, Martin
Evolution of body size in Galapagos marine iguanas
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Journal Article
Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Body size is one of the most important traits of organisms and allows predictions of an individual's morphology, physiology, behaviour and life history. However, explaining the evolution of complex traits such as body size is difficult because a plethora of other traits influence body size. Here I review what we know about the evolution of body size in a group of island reptiles and try to generalize about the mechanisms that shape body size. Galapagos marine iguanas occupy all 13 larger islands in this Pacific archipelago and have maximum island body weights between 900 and 12,000 g. The distribution of body sizes does not match mitochondrial clades, indicating that body size evolves independently of genetic relatedness. Marine iguanas lack intra- and inter-specific food competition and predators are not size-specific, discounting these factors as selective agents influencing body size. Instead I hypothesize that body size reflects the trade-offs between sexual and natural selection. We found that sexual selection continuously favours larger body sizes. Large males establish display territories and some gain over-proportional reproductive success in the iguanas' mating aggregations. Females select males based on size and activity and are thus responsible for the observed mating skew. However, large individuals are strongly selected against during El NiƱo-related famines when dietary algae disappear from the intertidal foraging areas. We showed that differences in algae sward ("pasture") heights and thermal constraints on large size are causally responsible for differences in maximum body size among populations. I hypothesize that body size in many animal species reflects a trade-off between foraging constraints and sexual selection and suggest that future research could focus on physiological and genetic mechanisms determining body size in wild animals. Furthermore, evolutionary stable body size distributions within populations should be analysed to better understand selection pressures on individual body size.