Testing a macro-evolutionary relationship using a Holocene island bird assemblage

Timothy Blackburn, Phillip Cassey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite the robust observation in macroecology that there are many small-bodied species, recent comparative studies have found little evidence for elevated net rates of diversification among small-bodied species within taxa. Here we examine the relationship between body size and species richness using the New Zealand land bird fauna, a well resolved palaeoecological Holocene assemblage. We test whether there is any evidence that net cladogenesis depended on body size in an assemblage prior to the impact of human-induced extinction. We also test whether net cladogenesis depends on the level at which taxa are endemic to New Zealand, to see whether there is evidence for bursts of cladogenesis following taxon establishment, and examine how the body sizes of New Zealand land birds relate to those in Australia, the most likely source pool for colonising taxa. Most New Zealand land bird species are small-bodied. We find no evidence, however, that this is due to higher net cladogenesis in small-bodied taxa. The body mass distributions of endemic and recent colonist species do not differ statistically, but recent colonists tend to be smaller-bodied than their closest endemic relative. This tendency is more marked for small-bodied than large-bodied taxa. More endemic taxa do not tend to be more species rich in New Zealand, although there is a positive relationship between level of endemism and species richness for forest taxa. The body mass distribution of New Zealand birds is very similar to that for Australia. Body mass does not dictate the likelihood that a family has colonised New Zealand from Australia, but the number of species in the family does: it is the species rich Australian families that have successfully colonised. We discuss the implications of these results for the evolution of body size distributions, and for the "island rule" of body size evolution on islands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-67
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


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