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Conformity to Bergmann's rule in birds depends on nest design and migration

Mainwaring, Mark C. and Street, Sally E. (2021) 'Conformity to Bergmann's rule in birds depends on nest design and migration.', Ecology and evolution, 11 (19). pp. 13118-13127.


Ecogeographical rules attempt to explain large-scale spatial patterns in biological traits. One of the most enduring examples is Bergmann's rule, which states that species should be larger in colder climates due to the thermoregulatory advantages of larger body size. Support for Bergmann's rule, however, is not consistent across taxonomic groups, raising questions about what factors may moderate its effect. Behavior may play a crucial, yet so far underexplored, role in mediating the extent to which species are subject to environmental selection pressures in colder climates. Here, we tested the hypothesis that nest design and migration influence conformity to Bergmann's rule in a phylogenetic comparative analysis of the birds of the Western Palearctic, a group encompassing dramatic variation in both climate and body mass. We predicted that migratory species and those with more protected nest designs would conform less to the rule than sedentary species and those with more exposed nests. We find that sedentary, but not short- or long-distance migrating, species are larger in colder climates. Among sedentary species, conformity to Bergmann's rule depends, further, on nest design: Species with open nests, in which parents and offspring are most exposed to adverse climatic conditions during breeding, conform most strongly to the rule. Our findings suggest that enclosed nests and migration enable small birds to breed in colder environments than their body size would otherwise allow. Therefore, we conclude that behavior can substantially modify species’ responses to environmental selection pressures.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2021 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:21 July 2021
Date deposited:29 October 2021
Date of first online publication:23 August 2021
Date first made open access:29 October 2021

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