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Conformity to Bergmann’s rule in birds depends on nest design and migration

Cite this dataset

Mainwaring, Mark; Street, Sally (2022). Conformity to Bergmann’s rule in birds depends on nest design and migration [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ecogeographical rules attempt to explain large-scale spatial patterns in biological traits. One of the most enduring examples is Bergmann’s rule, which states that species should be larger in colder climates due to the thermoregulatory advantages of larger body size. Support for Bergmann’s rule, however, is not consistent across taxonomic groups, raising questions about what factors may moderate its effect. Behaviour may play a crucial, yet so far underexplored, role in mediating the extent to which species are subject to environmental selection pressures in colder climates. Here, we tested the hypothesis that nest design and migration influence conformity to Bergmann’s rule in a phylogenetic comparative analysis of the birds of the Western Palearctic, a group encompassing dramatic variation in both climate and body mass. We predicted that migratory species and those with more protected nest designs would conform less to the rule than sedentary species and those with more exposed nests. We find that sedentary, but not short- or long-distance migrating species, are larger in colder climates. Among sedentary species, conformity to Bergmann’s rule depends, further, on nest design: species with open nests, in which parents and offspring are most exposed to adverse climatic conditions during breeding, conform most strongly to the rule. Our findings suggest that enclosed nests and migration enable small birds to breed in colder environments than their body size would otherwise allow. Therefore, we conclude that behaviour can substantially modify species’ responses to environmental selection pressures.


Please see Methods section in associated Manuscript. We also include the R code and phylogeny used for the analyses.

Usage notes

Please see associated ReadMe file.