Cope's rule, the tendency for species within a lineage to evolve towards larger body size, has been widely reported in the fossil record, but the mechanisms leading to such phyletic size increase remain unclear. Here we show that selection acting on individual organisms generally favors larger body size. We performed an analysis of the strength of directional selection on size compared with other quantitative traits by evaluating 854 selection estimates from 42 studies of contemporaneous natural populations. For size, more than 79% of selection estimates exceed zero, whereas for other morphological traits positive and negative values are similar in frequency. The selective advantage of increased size occurs for traits implicated in both natural selection (e.g., differences in survival) and sexual selection (e.g., differences in mating success). The predominance of positive directional selection on size within populations could translate into a macroevolutionary trend toward increased size and thereby explain Cope's rule.
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Vol. 58 • No. 7