Cope’s Rule

Cope’s Rule is a hypothesis that over time, successive species will tend to grow larger in body size,

Cope’s rule, named after American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, postulates that population lineages tend to increase in body size over evolutionary time. . . while the rule has been demonstrated in many instances, it does not hold true at all taxonomic levels, or in all clades. Larger body size is associated with increased fitness for a number of reasons, although there are also some disadvantages both on an individual and on a clade level: clades comprising larger individuals are more prone to extinction, which may act to limit the maximum size of organisms.

Alas, there are always skeptics and doubters,

However, many palaeobiologists are skeptical of the validity of Cope’s rule, which may merely represent a statistical artifact. Purported examples of Cope’s rule often assume that the stratigraphic age of fossils is proportional to their “clade rank”, a measure of how derived they are from an ancestral state; this relationship is in fact quite weak. Counterexamples to Cope’s rule are common throughout geological time; although size increase does occur more often than not, it is by no means universal. For example, among genera of Cretaceous molluscs, an increase in size is no more common than stasis or a decrease. In many cases, Cope’s rule only operates at certain taxonomic levels (for example, an order may obey Cope’s rule, while its constituent families do not), or more generally, it may apply to only some clades of a taxon.


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