• Body size;
  • climatic gradients;
  • habitat zonation;
  • heat tolerance;
  • macroecology;
  • New World mammals


Aim  To describe the geographical pattern of mean body size of the non-volant mammals of the Nearctic and Neotropics and evaluate the influence of five environmental variables that are likely to affect body size gradients.

Location  The Western Hemisphere.

Methods  We calculated mean body size (average log mass) values in 110 × 110 km cells covering the continental Nearctic and Neotropics. We also generated cell averages for mean annual temperature, range in elevation, their interaction, actual evapotranspiration, and the global vegetation index and its coefficient of variation. Associations between mean body size and environmental variables were tested with simple correlations and ordinary least squares multiple regression, complemented with spatial autocorrelation analyses and split-line regression. We evaluated the relative support for each multiple-regression model using AIC.

Results  Mean body size increases to the north in the Nearctic and is negatively correlated with temperature. In contrast, across the Neotropics mammals are largest in the tropical and subtropical lowlands and smaller in the Andes, generating a positive correlation with temperature. Finally, body size and temperature are nonlinearly related in both regions, and split-line linear regression found temperature thresholds marking clear shifts in these relationships (Nearctic 10.9 °C; Neotropics 12.6 °C). The increase in body sizes with decreasing temperature is strongest in the northern Nearctic, whereas a decrease in body size in mountains dominates the body size gradients in the warmer parts of both regions.

Main conclusions  We confirm previous work finding strong broad-scale Bergmann trends in cold macroclimates but not in warmer areas. For the latter regions (i.e. the southern Nearctic and the Neotropics), our analyses also suggest that both local and broad-scale patterns of mammal body size variation are influenced in part by the strong mesoscale climatic gradients existing in mountainous areas. A likely explanation is that reduced habitat sizes in mountains limit the presence of larger-sized mammals.