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7 March 2024 Accounting for age: uncovering the nuanced drivers of mammal body-size responses to climate change
Miranda K. Theriot, Link E. Olson, Hayley C. Lanier
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Shifts in mean body size coinciding with environmental change are well documented across animal species and populations, serving as a widespread and complex indicator of climate-change response. In mammal research, identifying and disentangling the potential drivers of these trends (e.g., thermoregulation, resource availability) is hindered by treating adult size as fixed, ignoring morphological changes that occur throughout life in many species. However, observed population-level size trends may reflect underlying shifts in age structure (i.e., change in the proportion of older, potentially larger individuals in the population). Here, we assessed the role of age structure by explicitly evaluating age as a contributor to temporal variation in skull size (a proxy for body size) in 2 carnivorans, Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis) and American Marten (Martes americana). Using a series of linear and nonlinear models, we tested age in years (determined by cementum-layer analysis) as a predictor of skull size alongside other factors previously proposed to be important drivers of body-size trends, including population density for lynx and growing season conditions for martens. In both species, age was a significant predictor of skull size indicating a rapid year-to-year increase in young adult size that diminished in later adulthood. However, temporal shifts in age structure alone did not explain the observed changes in size over time, indicating that age structure acts in concert with other as-yet unidentified factors to drive body-size change. By explicitly evaluating the role of age, we can both refine models of temporal body-size trends and gain insights into size change as a signal of underlying demographic shifts—such as age-specific survivorship—providing a more holistic understanding of how mammals are responding to climate change.

Miranda K. Theriot, Link E. Olson, and Hayley C. Lanier "Accounting for age: uncovering the nuanced drivers of mammal body-size responses to climate change," Journal of Mammalogy 105(3), 512-523, (7 March 2024).
Received: 13 June 2023; Accepted: 18 January 2024; Published: 7 March 2024
age structure
body size
climate-change response
Lynx canadensis
Martes americana
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