Perspective: the size-complexity rule

Evolution. 2004 Sep;58(9):1883-90. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2004.tb00476.x.


It is widely accepted that bigger entities have a greater division of labor than smaller ones and this is reflected in the fact that larger multicellular organisms have a corresponding increase in the number of their cell types. This rule is examined in some detail from very small organisms to large animals, and plants, and societies. Compared to other size-related rules, the size-complexity rule is relatively rough and approximate, yet clearly it holds throughout the whole range of living organisms, as well as for societies. The relationship between size and complexity is analyzed by examining the effects of size increase and decrease: size increase requires an increase in complexity, whereas size decrease permits, and sometimes requires, a decrease in complexity. Conversely, an increase or decrease in complexity permits, but does not require changes in size. An especially compelling argument for the close relation between size and complexity can be found in size quorum sensing in very small multicellular organisms.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Size*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Social Environment
  • Species Specificity