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Body size and latitudinal gradients in regional diversity of New World birds



Are latitudinal gradients in regional diversity random or biased with respect to body size? Using data for the New World avifauna, I show that the slope of the increase in regional species richness from the Arctic to the equator is not independent of body size. The increase is steepest among small and medium-sized species, and shallowest among the largest species. This is reflected in latitudinal variation in the shape of frequency distributions of body sizes in regional subsets of the New World avifauna. Because species are added disproportionately in small and medium size classes towards low latitudes, distributions become less widely spread along the body size axis than expected from the number of species. These patterns suggest an interaction between the effects of latitude and body size on species richness, implying that mechanisms which vary with both latitude and body size may be important determinants of high tropical diversity in New World birds.