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PLoS Biol. 2008 Dec 9;6(12):2650-7. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060303.

The worldwide variation in avian clutch size across species and space.

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Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.


Traits such as clutch size vary markedly across species and environmental gradients but have usually been investigated from either a comparative or a geographic perspective, respectively. We analyzed the global variation in clutch size across 5,290 bird species, excluding brood parasites and pelagic species. We integrated intrinsic (morphological, behavioural), extrinsic (environmental), and phylogenetic effects in a combined model that predicts up to 68% of the interspecific variation in clutch size. We then applied the same species-level model to predict mean clutch size across 2,521 assemblages worldwide and found that it explains the observed eco-geographic pattern very well. Clutches are consistently largest in cavity nesters and in species occupying seasonal environments, highlighting the importance of offspring and adult mortality that is jointly expressed in intrinsic and extrinsic correlates. The findings offer a conceptual bridge between macroecology and comparative biology and provide a global and integrative understanding of the eco-geographic and cross-species variation in a core life-history trait.

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