Bergmann's rule across the equator: a case study in Cerdocyon thous (Canidae)



  1. The variation in cranial size of the crab-eating fox Cerdocyon thous was analysed in relation to latitude and several environmental variables throughout its distribution in South America.

  2. We tested the existence of clines to determine whether this canid follows Bergmann's rule to the north and south of the Equator. Also, using niche modelling, we analysed whether the climatic changes during the last glaciation could have influenced Bergmann's rule in this species. We quantified the size of the cranium of C. thous (n = 300). The data were divided into two groups: (i) south of the Equator (n = 163) and (ii) north of the Equator (n = 137). We performed correlations, OLS regressions and simultaneous autoregressions to analyse the relationship between the variation in size and different geographic and environmental variables. Data of occurrence (n = 594) together with ambient variables from the present and the last glacial maximum (LGM) were used to predict the occurrence of C. thous with the implementation of the maximum entropy method. Present-day and historical distribution maps were obtained.

  3. The variation in the size of the cranium of C. thous showed two trends. In the south of Equator, we observed that the size of the skull shows an inverse relationship with temperature-related variables and a positive one with precipitation, while in north of the Equator, we observed the opposite relationship. Populations south of the Equator follow Bergmann's rule showing increasing size with increasing latitude. To the north of the Equator, a non-Bergmannian pattern occurs because size decreases with increasing latitude.

  4. Niche modelling showed two present-day groupings in South America, one north of Amazonia and the other south. However, for the period of the LGM, four groups emerged, possibly related to the four subspecies presently described for C. thous. Therefore, it is possible that the observed pattern – southern populations following Bergmann's rule while northern populations reflecting the opposite – has been influenced by the events that occurred during the LGM that could have led to the differentiation of populations.