Aim To test the abundant centre hypothesis by analysing the physical and climatic factors that influence body size variation in the European badger (Meles meles).
Location Data were compiled from 35 locations across Europe.
Methods We used body mass, body length and condylo-basal length (CBL) as surrogates of size. We also compiled data on latitude, several climatic variables, habitat type and site position relative to the range edge. We collapsed all continuous climatic variables into independent vectors using principal components analysis (PCA), and used a general linear model to explain the morphometric variation in badger populations across the species’ range.
Results Body mass and body length were nonlinearly and significantly related to latitude. In contrast, CBL was linearly related to latitude. Body mass changed nonlinearly along the temperature (PC1) gradient, with the highest values observed at mid-range. Furthermore, body mass, body length and CBL differed significantly among habitats, with badgers showing larger size in temperate habitats and core areas relative to peripheral zones.
Main conclusions Our analysis supports the nonlinear pattern predicted by the abundant centre hypothesis only for body mass and body length. These results imply that individuals are largest and heaviest at the centre of the climatic range of badger distribution. Variation of CBL with latitude follows a linear trend, consistent with Bergmann’s rule. Our results provide mixed support for the abundant centre hypothesis, and suggest food availability/quality to be the main mechanism underlying body size clines in this species.