The signature of human pressure history on the biogeography of body mass in tetrapods

Giovanni Rapacciuolo*, Julie Marin, Gabriel C. Costa, Matthew R. Helmus, Jocelyn E. Behm, Thomas M. Brooks, S. Blair Hedges, Volker C. Radeloff, Bruce E. Young, Catherine H. Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Aim: Examining the biogeography of body size is crucial for understanding how animal communities are assembled and maintained. In tetrapods, body size varies predictably with temperature, moisture, productivity seasonality and topographical complexity. Although millennial-scale human pressures are known to have led to the extinction of primarily large-bodied tetrapods, human pressure history is often ignored in studies of body size that focus on extant species. Here, we analyse 11,377 tetrapod species of the Western Hemisphere to test whether millennial-scale human pressures have left an imprint on contemporary body mass distributions throughout the tetrapod clade. Location: Western Hemisphere. Time period: Contemporary. Major taxa studied: Tetrapods (birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles). Methods: We mapped the distribution of assemblage-level median tetrapod body mass at a resolution of 110 km across the Western Hemisphere. We then generated multivariate models of median body mass as a function of temperature, moisture, productivity seasonality and topographical complexity, as well as two variables capturing the history of human population density and human-induced land conversion over the past 12,000 years. We controlled for both spatial and phylogenetic autocorrelation effects on body mass–environment relationships. Results: Human pressures explain a small but significant portion of geographical variation in median body mass that cannot be explained by ecological constraints alone. Overall, the median body mass of tetrapod assemblages is lower than expected in areas with a longer history of high human population density and land conversion, but there are important differences among tetrapod classes. Main conclusions: At this broad scale, the effect of human pressure history on tetrapod body mass is low relative to that of ecology. However, ignoring spatial variation in the history of human pressure is likely to lead to bias in studies of the present-day functional composition of tetrapod assemblages, at least in areas that have long been influenced by humans.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1022-1034
    Number of pages13
    JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


    • Americas
    • amphibians
    • body size
    • functional diversity
    • human pressure
    • reptiles
    • terrestrial vertebrates
    • western hemisphere


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