Phylogenetic analyses suggest that diversification and body size evolution are independent in insects

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Skewed body size distributions and the high relative richness of small-bodied taxa are a fundamental property of a wide range of animal clades. The evolutionary processes responsible for generating these distributions are well described in vertebrate model systems but have yet to be explored in detail for other major terrestrial clades. In this study, we explore the macro-evolutionary patterns of body size variation across families of Hexapoda (insects and their close relatives), using recent advances in phylogenetic understanding, with an aim to investigate the link between size and diversity within this ancient and highly diverse lineage.
The maximum, minimum, and mean-log body lengths of hexapod families are all approximately log-normally distributed, consistent with previous studies at lower taxonomic levels, and contrasting with skewed distributions typical of vertebrate groups. After taking phylogeny and within-tip variation into account, we find no evidence for a negative relationship between diversification rate and body size, suggesting decoupling of the forces controlling these two traits. Likelihood-based modeling of the log-mean body size identifies distinct processes operating within Holometabola and Diptera compared with other hexapod groups, consistent with accelerating rates of size evolution within these clades, while as a whole, hexapod body size evolution is found to be dominated by neutral processes including significant phylogenetic conservatism.
Based on our findings we suggest that the use of models derived from well-studied but atypical clades, such as vertebrates may lead to misleading conclusions when applied to other major terrestrial lineages. Our results indicate that within hexapods, and within the limits of current systematic and phylogenetic knowledge, insect diversification is generally unfettered by size-biased macro-evolutionary processes, and that these processes over large timescales tend to converge on apparently neutral evolutionary processes. We also identify limitations on available data within the clade and modeling approaches for the resolution of trees of higher taxa, the resolution of which may collectively enhance our understanding of this key component of terrestrial ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages17
JournalBmc evolutionary biology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

© Authors 2016. This content is made available by the publisher under a Creative Commons CC BY Licence

Cite this