Inconsistent patterns of body size evolution in co-occurring island reptiles

Yuval Itescu, Rachel Schwarz, Colin M. Donihue, Alex Slavenko, Stephanos A. Roussos, Kostas Sagonas, Efstratios D. Valakos, Johannes Foufopoulos, Panayiotis Pafilis, Shai Meiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Animal body sizes are often remarkably variable across islands, but despite much research we still have a poor understanding of both the patterns and the drivers of body size evolution. Theory predicts that interspecific competition and predation pressures are relaxed on small, remote islands, and that these conditions promote body size evolution. We studied body size variation across multiple insular populations of 16 reptile species co-occurring in the same archipelago and tested which island characteristics primarily drive body size evolution, the nature of the common patterns, and whether co-occurring species respond in a similar manner to insular conditions. Location: Aegean Sea islands. Time period: 1984–2016. Major taxa studied: Reptiles. Methods: We combined fieldwork, museum measurements and a comprehensive literature survey to collect data on nearly 10,000 individuals, representing eight lizard and eight snake species across 273 islands. We also quantified a large array of predictors to assess directly the effects of island area, isolation (both spatial and temporal), predation and interspecific competition on body size evolution. We used linear models and meta-analyses to determine which predictors are informative for all reptiles, for lizards and snakes separately, and for each species. Results: Body size varies with different predictors across the species we studied, and patterns differ within families and between lizards and snakes. Each predictor influenced body size in at least one species, but no general trend was recovered. As a group, lizards are hardly affected by any of the predictors we tested, whereas snake size generally increases with area and with competitor and predator richness, and decreases with isolation. Main conclusions: No factor emerges as a predominant driver of Aegean reptile sizes. This contradicts theories of general body size evolutionary trajectories on islands. We conclude that overarching generalizations oversimplify patterns and processes of reptile body size evolution on islands. Instead, species’ autecology and island particularities interact to drive the course of size evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-550
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • body size
  • competition
  • island area
  • isolation
  • lizards
  • predation
  • snakes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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