• Bergmann's rule;
  • ectotherms;
  • interspecific variation;
  • model selection;
  • niche conservatism;
  • phylogenetic eigenvector regression;
  • snakes

Biogeographical patterns of animal body size and the environmental and evolutionary mechanisms that may be driving them have been broadly investigated in macroecology, although just barely in ectotherms. We separately studied two snake clades, Viperidae and Elapidae, and used phylogenetic eigenvector regression and ordinary least squares multiple regression methods to perform a global grid-based analysis of the extent at which the patterns of body size (measured for each species as its log10-transformed maximum body length) of these groups are phylogenetically structured or driven by current environment trends. Phylogenetic relatedness explained 20% of the across-species size variation in Viperidae, and 59% of that of Elapidae, which is a more recent clade. Conversely, when we analysed spatial trends in mean body size values (calculated for each grid-cell as the average size of its extant species), an environmental model including temperature, precipitation, primary productivity (as indicated by the global vegetation index) and topography (range in elevation) explained 37.6% of the variation of Viperidae, but only 4.5% of that of Elapidae. These contrasted responses of body size patterns to current environment gradients are discussed, taking into consideration the dissimilar evolutionary histories of these closely-related groups. Additionally, the results obtained emphasize the importance of the need to start adopting deconstructive approaches in macroecology. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 98, 94–109.