Nature Publishing Group, publisher of Nature, and other science journals and reference works
my account e-alerts subscribe register
Tuesday 24 October 2017
Journal Home
Current Issue
Download PDF
Export citation
Export references
Send to a friend
More articles like this

Letters to Nature
Nature 351, 312 - 313 (23 May 1991); doi:10.1038/351312a0

The relationship between abundance and body size in British birds

Sean Nee, Andrew F. Read, Jeremy J. D. Greenwood* & Paul H. Harvey

AFRC Unit of Ecology and Behaviour, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford 0X1 3PS, UK
* British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK

THE relationship between abundance and body size is the subject of considerable debate in ecology1–15. Several data sets spanning a large range of body sizes show linear negative relationships between abundance and weight l–6 when these are measured on a logarithmic scale. But other studies of the abundances of species from single taxa, such as birds, which span a narrower range of body sizes reveal either little or no relationship, or a triangular relationship 9–15. Errors in estimating abundance might obscure relationships that do exist over a narrow range of body sizes. We describe here the relationship between body weight and abundance in British birds, whose population size estimates are unusually good. Abundance across all species declines with a −0.75 power of body weight, which conforms with the energetic equivalence 'rule'2,16. There is, however, a significant positive relationship between abundance and body weight within lower taxa. Those tribes that do not share recent common ancestry with other British birds are most likely to show a positive relationship across their constituent species. We thus show that phylogenetic relatedness might be an important indicator of the structure of the relationship between body size and abundance.



1. Damuth, J. Nature 290, 699−700 (1981). | Article | ISI |
2. Damuth, J. Biol. J. Linn. Soc., Lond. 31, 192−246 (1987).
3. Peters, R. H. The Ecological Implications of Body Size (Cambridge University Press, 1983).
4. Peters, R. G. & Wassenberg, K. Oecologia 60, 89−90 (1983). | Article | ISI |
5. Peters, R. H. & Raelson, J. V. Am. Nat. 124, 498−517 (1984). | Article | ISI |
6. Clutton-Brock, T. H. & Harvey, P. H. J. Zool. 183, 1−39 (1977).
7. Harvey, P. H. & Godfray, H. C. J. Am. Nat. 129, 318−320 (1986).
8. Sugihara, G. Am. Nat. 133, 458−463 (1989). | Article |
9. Brown, J. H. & Maurer, B. A. Nature 324, 248−250 (1986). | Article | ISI |
10. Juanes, F. Am. Nat. 128, 921−929 (1986). | Article |
11. Gaston, K. J. Oikos 53, 49−57 (1988).
12. Brown, J. H. & Maurer, B. A. Am. Nat. 130, 1−17 (1986).
13. Gaston, K. J. & Lawton, J. H. Nature 331, 709−712 (1988). | Article |
14. Morse, D. R., Stork, N. E. & Lawton, J. H. Ecol. Entomol. 13, 25−37 (1988).
15. Blackburn, T. M., Harvey, P. H. & Pagel, M. D. J. Anim. Ecol. 59, 335−345 (1990).
16. Odum, E. P. Fundamentals of Ecology 3rd edn (Saunders, Philadelphia, 1971).
17. Marchant, J. H., Hudson, R., Carter, S. P. & Whittington, P. Population Trends in British Breeding Birds (British Trust for Ornithology, Tring, Herts, UK, 1990).
18. Fisher, J. South Eastern Naturalist and Antiquary 5, 1−10 (1952).
19. Sharrock, J. T. R. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (British Trust for Ornithology, Tring, Herts, UK, 1990).
20. Brough, T. Average Weights of Birds (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Worplesdon Laboratory, Surrey, 1983).
21. Cramp, S. & Simmons, K. E. L. The Birds of the Western Palaearctic Vols 1−5 (Oxford University Press, 1977−1988).
22. Sibley, C. G., Ahlquist, J. E. & Munroe, B. L. Auk 105, 409−423 (1988).
23. Howard, R. A. & Moore, A. A Complete Checklist of Birds of the World (Macmillan, London, 1984).
24. Harvey, P. H., Clutton-Brock, T. H. & Mace, G. M. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77, 4387−4394 (1980). | ChemPort |
25. Harvey, P. H. & Pagel, M. D. The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology (Oxford University Press, 1991).
26. Read, A. F. & Harvey, P. H. J. Zool. 219, 329−353 (1989).
27. Williamson, M. in Biological Invasions: A Global Perspective (eds Drake, J. A. et al.) 329−350 (Wiley, New York, 1989).
28. Kleiber, M. The Fire of Life 2nd edn (Kreiger, New York, 1975).
29. Ulfstrand, S. & Hogstedt, G. Anser 15, 1−32 (1976).
30. Perrins, C. Birds of Britain and Europe (Collins, London, 1987).

© 1991 Nature Publishing Group
Privacy Policy