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Recent spatial and temporal changes in body size of terrestrial vertebrates: probable causes and pitfalls


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Geographical and temporal variations in body size are common phenomena among organisms and may evolve within a few years. We argue that body size acts much like a barometer, fluctuating in parallel with changes in the relevant key predictor(s), and that geographical and temporal changes in body size are actually manifestations of the same drivers. Frequently, the principal predictors of body size are food availability during the period of growth and ambient temperature, which often affects food availability. Food availability depends on net primary productivity that, in turn, is determined by climate and weather (mainly temperature and precipitation), and these depend mainly on solar radiation and other solar activities. When the above predictors are related to latitude the changes have often been interpreted as conforming to Bergmann's rule, but in many cases such interpretations should be viewed with caution due to the interrelationships among various environmental predictors. Recent temporal changes in body size have often been related to global warming. However, in many cases the above key predictors are not related to either latitude and/or year, and it is the task of the researcher to determine which particular environmental predictor is the one that determines food availability and, in turn, body size. The chance of discerning a significant change in body size depends to a large extent on sample size (specimens/year). The most recent changes in body size are probably phenotypic, but there are some cases in which they are partly genetic.

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