The R.O.U.S. evolved in an island

We may have solved the origin of Princess Bride’s rodent of unusual size.

Mainland size variation informs predictive models of exceptional insular body size change in rodents.

The tendency for island populations of mammalian taxa to diverge in body size from their mainland counterparts consistently in particular directions is both impressive for its regularity and, especially among rodents, troublesome for its exceptions. However, previous studies have largely ignored mainland body size variation, treating size differences of any magnitude as equally noteworthy. Here, we use distributions of mainland population body sizes to identify island populations as ‘extremely’ big or small, and we compare traits of extreme populations and their islands with those of island populations more typical in body size. We find that although insular rodents vary in the directions of body size change, ‘extreme’ populations tend towards gigantism. With classification tree methods, we develop a predictive model, which points to resource limitations as major drivers in the few cases of insular dwarfism. Highly successful in classifying our dataset, our model also successfully predicts change in untested cases.

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