Towards a more mechanistic understanding of traits and range sizes

Aim An important, unresolved question in macroecology is to understand the immense inter-specific variation in geographic range sizes. While species traits such as fecundity or body size are thought to affect range sizes, a general understanding on how multiple traits jointly influence them is missing. Here, we test the influence of a multitude of species traits on global range sizes of European passerine birds in order to better understand possible mechanisms behind macroecological relationships. Location Global. Methods We evaluated the effect of life-history traits (fecundity, dispersal ability), ecological traits (habitat niche, diet niche, migratory behaviour, migratory flexibility) and a morphological trait (body size) on the global range sizes of 165 European passerines. We identified hypotheses from the literature relating traits to range size and used path analysis to test them. Results Fecundity, dispersal ability and habitat niche breadth had a direct positive effect on range size. Diet niche position had a direct negative effect on range size. Habitat niche breadth also had an indirect positive effect via higher fecundity. Migratory behaviour had an indirect positive effect via better dispersal ability. Body size had a strong positive direct effect which was reduced by negative indirect effects via several other traits. Main conclusions Geographic range sizes of European passerines were influenced by life-history traits (fecundity and dispersal ability), ecological traits (habitat niche breadth, diet niche position and migratory behaviour) and by body size. Traits influenced range size both directly and indirectly. Body size effects were particularly complex, with positive and negative effects acting over different pathways. We show that it is necessary to disentangle the direct and indirect influence of multiple traits on range size to better elucidate the mechanisms that generate macroecological relationships.