Open Access Research article

Island selection on mammalian life-histories: genetic differentiation in offspring size

Tapio Mappes1*, Alessandro Grapputo2, Harri Hakkarainen3, Esa Huhta4, Esa Koskela5, Raimo Saunanen1 and Petri Suorsa3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, FIN-40014 Jyväskylä, Finland

2 Department of Biology, University of Padova, 58/B 35121 Padova, Italy

3 Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, FIN-20014 Turku, Finland

4 Finnish Forest Research Institute, Kolari Research Station, FIN-95900 Kolari, Finland

5 Department of Biological and Environmental Science, P.O. Box 35, FIN-40014 Jyväskylä, Finland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:296  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-296

Published: 27 October 2008



Since Darwin's pioneering work, evolutionary changes in isolated island populations of vertebrates have continued to provide the strongest evidence for the theory of natural selection. Besides macro-evolutionary changes, micro-evolutionary changes and the relative importance of natural selection vs. genetic drift are under intense investigation. Our study focuses on the genetic differentiation in morphological and life-history traits in insular populations of a small mammal the bank vole Myodes glareolus.


Our results do not support the earlier findings for larger adult size or lower reproductive effort in insular populations of small mammals. However, the individuals living on islands produced larger offspring than individuals living on the mainland. Genetic differentiation in offspring size was further confirmed by the analyses of quantitative genetics in lab. In insular populations, genetic differentiation in offspring size simultaneously decreases the additive genetic variation (VA) for that trait. Furthermore, our analyses of differentiation in neutral marker loci (Fst) indicate that VA is less than expected on the basis of genetic drift alone, and thus, a lower VA in insular populations could be caused by natural selection.


We believe that different selection pressures (e.g. higher intraspecific competition) in an insular environment might favour larger offspring size in small mammals. Island selection for larger offspring could be the preliminary mechanism in a process which could eventually lead to a smaller litter size and lower reproductive effort frequently found in insular vertebrates.