One of the best-recognized patterns in the evolution of organismal size is the tendency for mean and maximum size within a clade to decrease following a major extinction event and to increase during the subsequent recovery interval. Because larger organisms are typically thought to be at higher extinction risk than their smaller relatives, it has commonly been assumed that size reduction mostly reflects the selective extinction of larger species. However, to our knowledge the relative importance of within- and among-lineage processes in driving overall trends in body size has never been compared quantitatively. In this study, we use a global, specimen-level database of foraminifera to study size evolution from the Late Permian through Late Triassic. We explicitly decompose size evolution into within- and among-genus components. We find that size reduction following the end-Permian mass extinction was driven more by size reduction within surviving species and genera than by the selective extinction of larger taxa. Similarly, we find that increase in mean size across taxa during Early Triassic biotic recovery was a product primarily of size increase within survivors and the extinction of unusually small taxa, rather than the origination of new, larger taxa. During background intervals we find no strong or consistent tendency for extinction, origination, or within-lineage change to move the overall size distribution toward larger or smaller sizes. Thus, size stasis during background intervals appears to result from small and inconsistent effects of within- and among-lineage processes rather than from large but offsetting effects of within- and among-taxon components. These observations are compatible with existing data for other taxa and extinction events, implying that mass extinctions do not influence size evolution by simply selecting against larger organisms. Instead, they appear to create conditions favorable to smaller organisms.
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Vol. 38 • No. 4