Get access

The geographic distribution of mammal body size in Europe


*Correspondence: Miguel Á. Rodríguez, Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alcalá, 28871 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Aims  To describe the pattern of mean body size of native mammals in Europe, and to investigate its relationships with environmental predictors related to four hypotheses: (1) dispersal; (2) heat conservation; (3) heat dissipation; and (4) resource availability.

Location  Continental western Europe and Great Britain.

Methods  We used range maps to estimate the mean body size (average log mass) of mammals in 386 cells of 12,100 km2 each. Environmental conditions in each cell were quantified using nine historical, climatic and primary production variables. We attempted to tease apart the effects of these variables using correlation, multiple regression and spatial autocorrelation analyses.

Results  In the part of the continent covered by ice during the Pleistocene, body mass decreases southwards, and annual average temperature explains 73% of the variance in body size, consistent with the heat-conservation hypothesis. However, in warmer, non-glaciated areas the best predictor is an estimate of seasonality in plant production, but it explains only 18% of the variance. Carnivores, omnivores and herbivores show similar relationships, but the pattern for herbivores is substantially weaker than for the other groups.

Main conclusions  Overall, the relationship between mean body size and temperature is non-linear, being strong in cold environments but virtually disappearing above a temperature threshold.