Global latitudinal gradients and the evolution of body size in dinosaurs and mammals

Lauren N Wilson, Jacob D Gardner, John P Wilson, Alex Farnsworth, Zackary R Perry, Patrick S Druckenmiller, Gregory M Erickson, Chris L Organ

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Global climate patterns fundamentally shape the distribution of species and ecosystems. For example, Bergmann's rule predicts that homeothermic animals, including birds and mammals, inhabiting cooler climates are generally larger than close relatives from warmer climates. The modern world, however, lacks the comparative data needed to evaluate such macroecological rules rigorously. Here, we test for Bergmann's rule in Mesozoic dinosaurs and mammaliaforms that radiated within relatively temperate global climate regimes. We develop a phylogenetic model that accounts for biases in the fossil record and allows for variable evolutionary dispersal rates. Our analysis also includes new fossil data from the extreme high-latitude Late Cretaceous Arctic Prince Creek Formation. We find no evidence for Bergmann's rule in Mesozoic dinosaurs or mammaliaforms, the ancestors of extant homeothermic birds and mammals. When our model is applied to thousands of extant dinosaur (bird) and mammal species, we find that body size evolution remains independent of latitude. A modest temperature effect is found in extant, but not in Mesozoic, birds, suggesting that body size evolution in modern birds was influenced by Bergmann's rule during Cenozoic climatic change. Our study provides a general approach for studying macroecological rules, highlighting the fossil record's power to address longstanding ecological principles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2864
Pages (from-to)2864
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2024

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© 2024. The Author(s).


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