Aim Body size often plays a significant role in community assembly through its impacts on the life history and ecological attributes of species. Insight into the importance of size in structuring communities can be gained by examining the distribution of sizes of individuals [i.e. the individual size distribution (ISD) or size spectrum] in a community. ISDs have been studied extensively in aquatic and tree communities, but have received little attention in terrestrial animal communities. Here, we conduct the first macroecological analysis of ISDs in terrestrial animal communities to determine whether they show broad-scale consistency in shape.
Location North America, north of Mexico.
Methods Using likelihood-based methods and Gaussian mixture modelling, coupled with data from the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, we determine whether the ISDs for thousands of breeding and wintering North American bird communities are: (1) monotonically decreasing, (2) unimodal or (3) multimodal.
Results We find that avian ISDs are consistently multimodal, with most characterized by more than five modes in both breeding and wintering communities from local to continental scales. In addition, the positions of these modes along the size axis are remarkably consistent.
Main conclusions The striking consistency in the ISD within bird communities, as with tree and aquatic communities, indicates that the ISD is an important and informative characterization of resource utilization within an ecological assemblage. The differences in shape of the ISD among these groups also suggest that differences in body size-related constraints affect interactions within a group and with the environment. Our results confirm that avian assemblages do exhibit structure along the body size axis, and therefore it will be fruitful to explore this pattern in greater detail.