Extreme Body Size Variation in Pleistocene Dwarf Elephants from the Siculo-Maltese Palaeoarchipelago: Disentangling the Causes in Time and Space

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The phenomenon of insular dwarfism in proboscideans is particularly well represented on the Siculo-Maltese Palaeoarchipelago, an island group on which a species complex of palaeoloxodont elephants evolved during the Middle-Late Pleistocene. This likely included three species from Malta, four from Sicily (and possibly its palaeo-islands), and one from Favignana Island, ranging in size from the 1 m-tall <i>Palaeoloxodon falconeri</i> to continental-sized 4m-tall <i>P. antiquus</i>. However, our understanding of the causes for extreme differences in body size among insular samples in such a small geographic region is still limited. Here, I document the full range in size of elephants from the palaeoarchipelago, and discuss the reasons for size differences on the three islands in time and space in relation to predation, competition, resource limitation, accelerated life history, and duration of isolation. Differences in size between larger and smaller Sicilian elephants from Luparello Fissure, as well as possibly also in <i>P.</i> ex gr. <i>P. mnaidriensis</i> from Puntali Cave, San Teodoro Cave, and Favignana Island, may relate to the duration of isolation, or alternatively environmental stressors associated with the Last Glacial Maximum in the case of the Favignana elephant. Additionally, small but significant differences in size observable in Middle Pleistocene <i>P.</i> ex gr. <i>P. falconeri</i> from different localities on Sicily, as well as in Maltese <i>P. &lsquo;melitensis&rsquo;</i> may also relate to duration of isolation, highlighting the need for better geochronological data in order to better distinguish macro-ecological causes driving body size change from more subtle effects relating to duration of isolation.