Biology, not environment, drives major patterns in maximum tetrapod body size through time

Roland B. Sookias, Roger B. J. Benson, Richard J. Butler


Abiotic and biological factors have been hypothesized as controlling maximum body size of tetrapods and other animals through geological time. We analyse the effects of three abiotic factors—oxygen, temperature and land area—on maximum size of Permian–Jurassic archosauromorphs and therapsids, and Cenozoic mammals, using time series generalized least-squares regression models. We also examine maximum size growth curves for the Permian–Jurassic data by comparing fits of Gompertz and logistic models. When serial correlation is removed, we find no robust correlations, indicating that these environmental factors did not consistently control tetrapod maximum size. Gompertz models—i.e. exponentially decreasing rate of size increase at larger sizes—fit maximum size curves far better than logistic models. This suggests that biological limits such as reduced fecundity and niche space availability become increasingly limiting as larger sizes are reached. Environmental factors analysed may still have imposed an upper limit on tetrapod body size, but any environmentally imposed limit did not vary substantially during the intervals examined despite variation in these environmental factors.

  • Received February 20, 2012.
  • Accepted March 26, 2012.
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