• Reevaluating recent temporal trends in animal body size: the role of demography

      Theriot, Miranda K.; Olson, Link; Doak, Patricia; Millien, Virginie (2021-05)
      Climate change over recent decades is associated with varied responses in animals, including both increases and decreases in body size. These opposing trends are often attributed to two primary hypotheses. In warm-blooded vertebrates, Bergmann's rule predicts decreases in average size with increasing temperature, based on the relationship between body size and thermoregulation. Alternatively, increased average body size is linked with changes in resource availability as summer growing seasons lengthen and winters becomes milder. We propose a third explanation, that shifts in demography underlie some of these observed trends, as many species change in size or shape throughout life. The influence of thermoregulatory demands, resources, and demography on body size trends are not mutually exclusive; disentangling these effects and identifying overarching patterns requires detailed analyses across multiple locations and taxa, which in turn necessitates repeatable and expandable studies. To that end, here we propose three best practices in body size research: defining and justifying measures of size, citing museum specimens, and accounting for demography. We employed these guidelines in a study on masked shrews (Sorex cinereus) in Alaska. We found evidence of age-based differences in total body length, tail length, skull length, and skull width; however, correcting for age did not have a strong effect on the apparent trends in size over time. Based on linear mixed models, mean total length and tail length increased from 1951-1991, consistent with previous findings. Additionally, our results revealed slight increases in mean skull length and toothrow length over the 40-year study period. There was some indication of differing trends between age classes in both of these measurements. These results were not statistically significant, but our sample size of overwintered adults was relatively small, so further study is needed to fully investigate age-specific size trends in masked shrews. In summary, this thesis highlights the importance of repeatability in body-size research and emphasizes the importance of demography in the study of these trends.