Climate and mammalian life histories

Jácint Tökölyi, Júlia Schmidt, Zoltán Barta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


Mammals display considerable geographical variation in life history traits. To understand how climatic factors might influence this variation, we analysed the relationship between life history traits - adult body size, litter size, number of litters per year, gestation length, neonate body mass, weaning age and age at sexual maturity - and several environmental variables quantifying the seasonality and predictability of temperature and precipitation across the distribution range of five terrestrial mammal groups. Environmental factors correlated strongly with each other; therefore, we used principal components analysis to obtain orthogonal climatic predictors that could be used in multivariate models. We found that in bats, primates and even-toed ungulates adult body size tends to be larger in species inhabiting cold, dry, seasonal environments, whereas in carnivores and rodents a smaller body size is characteristic of warm, dry environments, suggesting that low food availability might limit adult size. Species inhabiting cold, dry, seasonal habitats have fewer, larger litters and shorter gestation periods; however, annual fecundity in these species is not higher, implying that the large litter size of mammals living at high latitudes is probably a consequence of time constraints imposed by strong seasonality. On the other hand, the number of litters per year and annual fecundity were greater in species inhabiting environments with higher seasonality in precipitation. Lastly, we found little evidence for specific effects of environmental variability. Our results highlight the complex effects of environmental factors in the evolution of life history traits in mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-736
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014



  • Body size
  • Comparative analysis
  • Macroecology
  • Predictability
  • Reproductive traits
  • Seasonality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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