Do biological traits drive geographical patterns in European amphibians?

The present-day biogeography of European amphibians has been hypothesized to have arisen from range expansion and recolonization of the northern part of the continent from southern late Pleistocene refugia, such that northern species generally possess large ranges while southerly species are mostly small-ranged. Here we test the hypothesis that these patterns are likely to be underpinned by biological traits associated with dispersal ability. We do this by analysing data for anurans and urodeles, the two main groups of European amphibians. Location: Europe. Methods: We built a database of biological traits (body size, fecundity, life span, habitat specialization) of European amphibians, excluding island endemics. We mapped the basic macroecological patterns of range size and position, and analysed the causal pathways for range size using structural equation models (SEMs). Results: Amphibian species with a small range size are largely restricted to areas in southern Europe associated with putative Pleistocene refugia. Those present in northern Europe are exclusively large-ranged species whose distributions extend all the way from southern Europe. SEMs explained 54% of range size variation for anurans, with long life span and high fecundity being influential explanatory variables, and explained 61% of range size variation within urodeles, with measures of species fecundity being influential. Main conclusions: Species that have successfully recolonized the north following deglaciation have the largest ranges for both groups of amphibians. These large-ranged species generally possess traits that indicate the potential for rapid range expansion, with differences apparent in the balance of traits between anurans and urodeles. The traits linked to northern distributions (and large range size) appear to be a mix of r and K traits, indicating that intermediate life-history strategies have proved to be optimal for range expansion into northern regions. These results integrate species biology with geographical history in explaining present-day patterns of species distribution, range size and diversity.