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Interspecific patterns of species richness, geographic range size, and body size among New World venomous snakes

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Many higher taxa exhibit latitudinal gradients in species richness, geographic range size, and body size. However, these variables are often interdependent, such that examinations of univariate or bivariate patterns alone may be misleading. Therefore, I examined latitudinal gradients in, and relationships between, species richness, geographic range size, and body size among 144 species of New World venomous snakes [families Elapidae (coral snakes) and Viperidae (pitvipers)]. Both lineages are monophyletic, collectively span 99° of latitude, and are extremely variable in body size and geographic range sizes. Coral snakes exhibit highest species richness near the equator, while pitviper species richness peaks in Central America. Species – range size distributions were strongly right-skewed for both families. There was little support for Bergmann's rule or Rapoport's rule for snakes of either family, as neither body size nor range size increased significantly with latitude. However, range area and median range latitude were positively correlated above 15° N, indicating a possible “Rapoport effect” at high northern latitudes. Geographic range size was positively associated with body size. Available continental area strongly influenced range size. Comparative (phylogenetically-based) analyses revealed that shared history is a poor predictor of range size variation within clades. Among vipers, trends in geographic range sizes may have been structured more by historical biogeography than by macroecological biotic factors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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