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The evolution of large‐scale body size clines in

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A major goal in macroecology is to determine how body size varies geographically, and explain why such patterns exist. Recently, a grid‐cell assemblage analysis found significant body size trends with latitude and temperature in Plethodon salamanders, and support for the heat‐balance hypothesis as a possible explanation for these trends. Here we demonstrate that the heat‐balance hypothesis is unlikely to have generated this pattern, and that there is no overall body size trend with temperature in Plethodon. Using data from 3155 local Plethodon assemblages, we find no support for body size clines with latitude, and no relationship between body size and temperature. We also found that body size did not covary with elevation, in contrast to what was predicted by heat‐balance. We then examined the various scenarios under which body size clines across grid‐cell assemblages could evolve via heat‐balance, and found that none were tenable in light of the existing data. Instead, a single, widely distributed species was responsible for the pattern across grid‐cell assemblages. Finally, we examined why phylogenetic eigenvector regression does not account for phylogenetic non‐independence among taxa, and should not be used to account for shared evolutionary history in assembly‐level analyses. Assemblage‐level patterns are a useful means of assessing biogeographic trends, and are an important complement to within‐species and cross‐species patterns. However, while the use of grid‐cell assemblage approaches from digital databases is expedient, their results must be examined critically, and whenever possible, compared with data obtained from local species assemblages (particularly for ecological mechanisms that operate at the level of individuals). Finally, our results emphasize the importance of using corroborative data to evaluate alternative hypotheses, so that potential mechanisms that explain bioegeographic patterns are properly assigned.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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