Body size is one of the most commonly measured traits in ecology and evolution because it covaries with environmental (e.g., temperature, latitude, degree of population isolation) and life-history (e.g., metabolic rate, generation time) traits. However, the driving mechanisms of body size variation in the distant geological past are poorly known and complicated by partial specimen recovery, limited population-level sampling, and the use of linear measurements as proxies for three-dimensional volumetric-size data. How much information are we missing by using approximate metrics of body size? Here we examine this question in an evolving lineage of planktonic foraminifera. We measure test diameter and surface area of over 500 individuals of the species Globoconella puncticulata using two-dimensional images. These results are compared with measurements of test volume of the same individuals as measured by a recently developed high-throughput method for analysing three-dimensional morphometrics as well as high-resolution three-dimensional computed tomography scanning. Our results show that even in a lineage showing substantial morphological change, a cross-sectional test area can provide a consistent proxy for body volume. Approximating body volume with one-dimensional (linear) size measurements is more problematic as it systematically over- and underestimates the smallest and largest tests, respectively. In our study, shape (here measured as shell-aspect ratio) only explained marginally more variation when included in the regressions. The use of 3D light microscopy introduces a small degree of scatter in the data, but the number of individuals necessary to detect trends in body size with sufficient statistical power is comparable to the sample size required for other traits. These results imply that even in an evolving lineage undergoing substantial morphological change, cross-sectional area can provide a consistent proxy for body size.

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