The scale of it all: Postcanine tooth size, the taxon-level effect, and the universality of Gould's scaling law

Lynn E. Copes, Gary Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


In a seminal paper in 1975, Gould proposed that postcanine occlusal area (PCOA) should scale metabolically (0.75) with body mass across mammals. By regressing PCOA against skull length in a small sample of large-bodied herbivorous mammals, Gould provided some marginal support for this hypothesis, which he then extrapolated as a universal scaling law for Mammalia. Since then, many studies have sought to confirm this scaling relationship within a single order and have found equivocal support for Gould's assertion. In part, this may be related to the use of proxies for both PCOA and body mass, small sample sizes, or the influence of a "taxon-level effect," rendering Gould's scaling "universal" problematic. Our goal was to test the universality of Gould's prediction and the impact of the taxon-level effect on regressions of tooth size on body mass in a large extant mammalian sample (683 species spanning 14 orders). We tested for the presence of two types of taxon-level effect that may influence the acceptance or rejection of hypothesized scaling coefficients. The hypotheses of both metabolic and isometric scaling can be rejected in Mammalia, but not in all sub-groups therein. The level of data aggregation also influences the interpretation of the scaling relationship. Because the scaling relationship of tooth size to body mass is highly dependent on both the taxonomic level of analysis and the mathematical methods used to organize the data, paleontologists attempting to retrodict body mass from fossilized dental remains must be aware of the effect that sample composition may have on their results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-203
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Palaeontology


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