Aim To describe broad-scale geographical patterns of body size for European and North American amphibian faunas and to explore possible processes underlying these patterns. Specifically, we propose a heat balance hypothesis, as both heat conservation and heat gain determine the heat balance of ectotherms, and test it along with five other hypotheses that have a possible influence on body size gradients: size dependence, migration ability, primary productivity, seasonality and water availability.
Location Western Europe and North America north of Mexico.
Methods We processed distribution maps for native amphibian species to estimate the mean body size in 110 × 110 km cells and calculated eight environmental predictors to explore the relationship between environmental gradients and the observed patterns. We used least squares regression modelling and model selection approaches based on information theory to evaluate the relative support for each hypothesis.
Results We found consistent body size gradients and similar relationships to environmental variables within each amphibian group in Europe and North America. Annual potential evapotranspiration, a measure of environmental energy, was the strongest predictor of mean body size in both regions. However, the contrasting responses to ambient energy in each group resulted in opposite geographical patterns, i.e. anurans increased in size from high- to low-energy areas in both continents and urodeles showed the opposite pattern.
Main conclusions Our results support the heat balance hypothesis, suggesting that the thermoregulatory abilities of anurans would allow them to reach larger sizes in colder climates by optimizing the trade-off between heating and cooling rates, whereas a lack of such strategies among urodele faunas would explain why these organisms tend to be smaller in cooler areas. These findings may also have implications for the role of climate warming on the global decline of amphibians.