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Data from: Darker where cold and wet: Australian birds follow their own version of Gloger's rule

Cite this dataset

Delhey, Kaspar (2017). Data from: Darker where cold and wet: Australian birds follow their own version of Gloger's rule [Dataset]. Dryad.


Gloger's rule is usually interpreted as predicting darker coloured animals in warmer and more humid/vegetated regions. The relative importance of temperature and rainfall or vegetation is however unclear, and often only one variable is tested at a time, mainly through proxies. Here, I assess the predictions of Gloger's rule for interspecific achromatic plumage variation (dark to light variation) for an entire avifauna (551 species of Australian landbirds). I tested the effects of climatic variables (temperature and rainfall) and vegetation structure on plumage reflectance at species and assemblage level (100x100 km cells), controlling for phylogenetic relatedness and spatial autocorrelation. To assess the robustness of these results I compared observed results with those of a null distribution of effects obtained from repeatedly simulating random plumage reflectance evolution on the phylogeny. At both the species and assemblage level, darker coloured birds were found in wetter and colder regions and in more densely vegetated habitats. Simulations confirm results at the species level and the effect of temperature at the assemblage level, but rainfall and vegetation effects at the assemblage level fall within the distribution of simulated effects and should be interpreted with care. Interspecific colour variation in Australian birds supports Gloger's rule for rainfall/vegetation, but shows the opposite pattern for temperature. Darker colours in wet and vegetated environments are consistent with the role of melanin pigmentation in preventing feather degradation by bacteria, but also with background-matching for camouflage. Darker plumage might be beneficial in colder regions or detrimental in warmer regions if it affects thermoregulation, a selective force often only assumed to be of importance for ectotherms. The data highlight the need to test the generality of biogeographic rules across levels and at broad scale. Experimental work is needed to confirm the mechanisms linking plumage achromatic variation to climate.

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