Habitat structure across multiple spatial and temporal scales has been proposed as a key driver of body size distributions for associated communities. Thus, understanding the relationship between habitat and body size is fundamental to developing predictions regarding the influence of habitat change on animal communities. Much of the work assessing the relationship between habitat structure and body size distributions has focused on terrestrial taxa with determinate growth, and has primarily analysed discontinuities (gaps) in the distribution of species mean sizes (species size relationships or SSRs).
The suitability of this approach for taxa with indeterminate growth has yet to be determined. We provide a cross-ecosystem comparison of bird (determinate growth) and fish (indeterminate growth) body mass distributions using four independent data sets. We evaluate three size distribution indices: SSRs, species size–density relationships (SSDRs) and individual size–density relationships (ISDRs), and two types of analysis: looking for either discontinuities or abundance patterns and multi-modality in the distributions.
To assess the respective suitability of these three indices and two analytical approaches for understanding habitat–size relationships in different ecosystems, we compare their ability to differentiate bird or fish communities found within contrasting habitat conditions. All three indices of body size distribution are useful for examining the relationship between cross-scale patterns of habitat structure and size for species with determinate growth, such as birds.
In contrast, for species with indeterminate growth such as fish, the relationship between habitat structure and body size may be masked when using mean summary metrics, and thus individual-level data (ISDRs) are more useful. Furthermore, ISDRs, which have traditionally been used to study aquatic systems, present a potentially useful common currency for comparing body size distributions across terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
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