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Foster's rule (also known as the island rule) is a principle in evolutionary biology stating that members of a species get smaller or bigger depending on the resources available in the environment. This is the core of the study of island biogeography. For example, it is known that pygmy mammoths evolved from normal mammoths on small islands. Similar evolutionary paths have been observed in elephants, hippopotamuses, boas, deer, and humans.
It was first stated by J. Bristol Foster in 1964 in the journal Nature, in an article titled "The evolution of mammals on islands." In it, he studied 116 island species and compared them to their mainland varieties. He proposed that certain island creatures evolved into larger versions of themselves while others became smaller versions of themselves. For this, he proposed the simple explanation that smaller creatures get larger in the absence of the predators they had attracted on the mainland and larger creatures become smaller with the absence of food sources.
Later, that idea was expanded upon by the publication of The Theory of Island Biogeography, by Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson. And in 1978, Ted J. Case published a much longer and more complex paper on the topic in the journal Ecology. Case also demonstrated that Foster's original conjecture for the reason all this happened was not completely true and was oversimplified.
- Foster, J. B. (1964) The evolution of mammals on islands. Nature 202, 234 235.
- Foster, J. B. (1965) The evolution of the mammals of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. "Occ. papers of the B. C. Prov. Museum, 14, 1-130
- Case, T. J. (1978) A general explanation for insular body size trends in terrestrial vertebrates. Ecology, 59, 1-18.