Bergmann's rule; a concept cluster?


  • Cortney Watt,

  • Sean Mitchell,

  • Volker Salewski

C. Watt ( and S. Mitchell, Biology Dept, St. Francis Xavier Univ., Box 5000, Antigonish, NS, B2G 2W5, Canada. – V. Salewski, Vogelwarte Radolfzell at the Max-Planck-Inst. for Ornithology, Schlossallee 2, DE–78315 Radolfzell, Germany.


The science behind ecology has been contested for years, partially because of the misuse and misrepresentation of concepts within ecology. This paper discusses the use of Bergmann's rule, a fundamental rule of biogeography. The rule was proposed by Carl Bergmann in 1847 and was published only in German; therefore, the majority of researchers have relied on a single translation by Mayr suggesting that races from cooler climates tend to be larger in species of warm-blooded vertebrates than races of the same species living in warmer climates. That many scientists cannot go back to the original source of information because it has not been published in English has resulted in relying on others for interpretation and led to several problems, the largest of which is whether the definition of the rule should include the mechanism, which had been proposed by Bergmann. There has been a large field of research on the subject, but few tests of the mechanisms behind the observed phenomenon. We conducted a review of the literature on Bergmann's rule, and from this suggest (1) Bergmann's original rule be maintained (a direct translation is provided), (2) mechanism is inherent in Bergmann's rule and is required for a rule to be of scientific value; patterns should be labelled as trends, not rules, (3) the focus should be on falsifying hypothesized mechanisms rather than simply describing patterns, and (4) to truly evaluate Bergmann's rule in a scientific manner the original German source should be translated and made available to the scientific public.