Global Size Pattern in a Group of Important Ecological Indicators (Diptera, Chironomidae) Is Driven by Latitudinal Temperature Gradients

Insects. 2021 Dec 28;13(1):34. doi: 10.3390/insects13010034.


Size is one of the most outwardly obvious characteristics of animals, determined by multiple phylogenetic and environmental variables. Numerous hypotheses have been suggested to explain the relationship between the body size of animals and their geographic latitude. Bergmann's Rule, describing a positive relationship between the body size of endothermic animals and their geographic latitude, is especially well known. Whether or not insects exhibit a similar pattern has long been a subject for debate. We hypothesize that latitudinal size gradients are coupled to temperature variation affecting the metabolic rate of these merolimnic insects. We showcase a strong latitudinal size gradient in non-biting midges (Diptera: Chironomidae), based on the examination of 4309 specimens of these midges from around the world. Although phylogenetic position was a key predictor of wing length, we also found that wing length decreases by 32.4 µm per every 1 °C of mean annual temperature increase. This pattern was found across different taxa and could be detected in 20 of 24 genera studied. We discuss the reasons for this pattern origin and its palaeoecological implications.

Keywords: Diptera; biogeography; body size; functional traits; latitude; temperature size rule.