Evolutionary trends in body size of parasitic flatworms
Evolutionary trends in body size have been identified within several lineages, but not all have followed Cope's rule, which states that average body size within a taxon tends to increase over time. In organisms such as parasites, space constraints may have shaped the evolution of body sizes, favouring small-bodied taxa capable of exploiting new niches. Here, the average adult body sizes of families in three groups of parasitic flatworms, the Digenea and two clades of Monogenea (Monopisthocotylea and Polyopisthocotylea), are related to their clade rank. Clade rank reflects the number of branching events, and thus the total path length, between an extant family and the root of the phylogenetic tree. Among families of Digenea, all of which are endoparasites of vertebrates, there was no trend in body size evolution. In contrast, the Monopisthocotylea and Polyopisthocotylea, which are (with the exception of Polystomatidae and Sphyranuridae) ectoparasites of fish, revealed significant negative relationships between family body size and clade rank, suggesting an evolutionary trend of decreasing size. In addition, an analysis of body size distributions in monogenean families also provides support, albeit weak, for this trend. From an ancestor parasitic on the skin of fishes, monogeneans have diversified by colonizing other microhabitats on their hosts, including such space-limited sites as the gaps between secondary gill lamellae. Using a conservative likelihood ratio test, however, a random walk, or null model of evolution could not be discarded in favour of the directional trends mentioned above. Nevertheless, these results suggest that body size has taken different evolutionary paths in endo- and ectoparasitic flatworms. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 85, 181–189.