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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • animal model;
  • Bergmann's rule;
  • birds;
  • body size;
  • climate change;
  • mammals;
  • microevolution;
  • natural selection;
  • phenotypic plasticity

Abstract

Climate change is expected to induce many ecological and evolutionary changes. Among these is the hypothesis that climate warming will cause a reduction in body size. This hypothesis stems from Bergmann's rule, a trend whereby species exhibit a smaller body size in warmer climates, and larger body size under colder conditions in endotherms. The mechanisms behind this rule are still debated, and it is not clear whether Bergmann's rule can be extended to predict the effects of climate change through time. We reviewed the primary literature for evidence (i) of a decrease in body size in response to climate warming, (ii) that changing body size is an adaptive response and (iii) that these responses are evolutionary or plastic. We found weak evidence for changes in body size through time as predicted by Bergmann's rule. Only three studies investigated the adaptive nature of these size decreases. Of these, none reported evidence of selection for smaller size or of a genetic basis for the size change, suggesting that size decreases could be due to nonadaptive plasticity in response to changing environmental conditions. More studies are needed before firm conclusions can be drawn about the underlying causes of these changes in body size in response to a warming climate.