Habitat primary production and the evolution of body size within the hartebeest clade

Isabella Capellini*, Leonard Morris Gosling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Local adaptation is a key process in the evolution of biological diversity but relatively few studies have identified the selective forces that drive trait divergence at low taxonomic levels, particularly amongst mammals. Variation in body size across taxa is fundamental as shown by allometric relationships with numerous physiological, morphological and life-history traits. Differences in adult size across cohorts within populations of temperate ungulates are determined by variation in trophic resource availability during growth, suggesting that natural selection might promote the evolution of size divergence across sister taxa through local adaptation to variation in habitat productivity. We tested this hypothesis in the hartebeest (Alcelaphus sp.), an antelope lineage including eight extant (or recently extinct) allopatric subspecies that evolved within the last million years and colonized all the African savannahs. We predicted that body size across the subspecies should correlate positively with habitat productivity across taxon ranges. Mean body size of all the hartebeest taxa was quantified using skull length from museum specimens, and climatic variables were used as surrogates of habitat productivity. Body size across subspecies was positively correlated with rainfall, suggesting that variation in habitat primary production may drive morphological evolution between taxa. Focusing at a low taxonomic level has allowed us to identify a critical selective force that may shape divergence in body size, without the confounding effect of variation in trophic niche.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-440
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2007


  • Alcelaphus
  • Antelopes
  • Body size
  • Bovidae
  • Geographical variation
  • Intraspecific variation
  • Local adaptation
  • Natural selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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