Spatial Dynamics of Body Size Frequency Distributions for North American Squamates


Student author: Christian L. Cox

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Evolutionary Biology


Scale dependent patterns of body size frequency distributions (BSFDs) have been explained by competition and an evolutionarily optimal body size in mammals. We test these ideas in a vertebrate group that is a model for competition and evolutionary studies by assessing the scale-dependence of BSFDs. BSFDs (body size defined as maximum total length) of North American squamates were assembled for the entire continent, biomes within the continent and local habitat patches within biomes. We described these distributions using skewness, kurtosis, interquartile range (IQR), and an index of evenness. We compared these parameters among spatial scales using Kolmogorov–Smirnov tests and bootstrap simulations. We assessed the relationship between body size and species richness using correlations (Pearsons and Spearmans R). The North American BSFD is bimodal, with a primary mode (240 mm) corresponding to lizards and small snakes and a secondary mode (912 mm) to snakes. Squamate BSFDs varied in a scale dependent fashion for some biomes and local habitat patches for kurtosis (12% of local patches and 10% of biomes more platykurtic), skewness (30% of biomes skewed to the right) and IQR (12% of patches increased). The index of evenness of BSFDs did not vary with spatial scale. Body size of biomes and local habitat patches closely resembles the North American BSFD as species richness increases. We found limited statistical support for the scale-dependency of North American squamate BSFDs (only 12–30% of patches or biomes conformed to the predicted pattern). These results suggest that the mechanisms implicated in scale-dependent patterns of BSFDs for mammals, geographic turnover of modal-sized species and competition within local assemblages may be of diminished importance in squamates. As geographic turnover of modal-sized species is theoretically linked to an evolutionarily optimal body size, this may suggest that optimal size theory is not adequate to predict spatial scaling of BSFDs in squamates.


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