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Ecological emergence of thermal clines in body size


Correspondence: Eric Edeline, tel. +33 0 144 323 884, fax +33 0 144 323 885, e-mail:


The unprecedented rate of global warming requires a better understanding of how ecosystems will respond. Organisms often have smaller body sizes under warmer climates (Bergmann's rule and the temperature-size rule), and body size is a major determinant of life histories, demography, population size, nutrient turnover rate, and food-web structure. Therefore, by altering body sizes in whole communities, current warming can potentially disrupt ecosystem function and services. However, the underlying drivers of warming-induced body downsizing remain far from clear. Here, we show that thermal clines in body size are predicted from universal laws of ecology and metabolism, so that size-dependent selection from competition (both intra and interspecific) and predation favors smaller individuals under warmer conditions. We validate this prediction using 4.1 × 106 individual body size measurements from French river fish spanning 29 years and 52 species. Our results suggest that warming-induced body downsizing is an emergent property of size-structured food webs, and highlight the need to consider trophic interactions when predicting biosphere reorganizations under global warming.

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