Patterns of within-species body size variation of birds: strong evidence for Bergmann's rule


  • Kyle G. Ashton

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, U.S.A.
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Kyle G. Ashton, Archbold Biological Station, 123 Main Drive, Venus, Florida 33960, U.S.A. E-mail:


Aim  The aim of this study is to test whether Bergmann's rule, a general intraspecific tendency towards larger body size in cooler areas and at higher latitudes, holds for birds throughout the world.

Location  This study includes information on species of birds from throughout the world.

Methods  I gathered data on body size variation from the literature and used two general meta-analytical procedures to test the validity of Bergmann's rule in birds: a modified vote-counting approach and calculation of overall effect sizes. Related species may show similar body size trends, thus I performed all analyses using nonphylogenetic and phylogenetic methods. I used tests of phylogenetic signal for each data set to decide which type of statistical analysis (nonphylogenetic or phylogenetic) was more appropriate.

Results  The majority of species of birds (76 of 100 species) are larger at higher latitudes, and in cooler areas (20 of 22 species). Birds show a grand mean correlation coefficient of +0.32 for body size and latitude, and −0.81 for body size and temperature, both significant trends. Sedentary species show stronger body size trends in some, but not all, analyses. Neither males nor females consistently have stronger body size trends. Additionally, the strength of body size trends does not vary with latitude or body mass.

Conclusions  Bergmann's rule holds for birds throughout the world, regardless of whether temperature or latitude (as a proxy) is used. Previous studies have suggested that Bergmann's rule is stronger for sedentary than migratory species, males than females and temperate than tropical taxa. I did not find strong support for any of these as general themes for birds, although few studies of tropical taxa have been conducted. The processes responsible for Bergmann's rule remain somewhat of a black box; however, fasting endurance is probably a more important factor than the traditional hypothesis of heat conservation.