Large-scale evolution of body temperatures in land vertebrates

Matthew O. Moreira, Yan Fu Qu, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Body temperature is a crucial variable in animals that affects nearly every aspect of their lives. Here we analyze for the first time largescale patterns in the evolution of body temperatures across terrestrial vertebrates (tetrapods: including amphibians, mammals, birds and other reptiles). Despite the traditional view that endotherms (birds and mammals) have higher body temperatures than ectotherms, we find they are not significantly different. However, rates of body-temperature evolution are significantly different, with lower rates in endotherms than ectotherms, and the highest rates in amphibians. We find that body temperatures show strong phylogenetic signal and conservatism over 350 million years of evolutionary history in tetrapods, and some lineages appear to have retained similar body temperatures over time for hundreds of millions of years. Although body temperatures are often unrelated to climate in tetrapods, we find that body temperatures are significantly related to day-night activity patterns. Specifically, body temperatures are generally higher in diurnal species than nocturnal species, both across ectotherms and, surprisingly, across endotherms also. Overall, our results suggest that body temperatures are significantly linked to phylogeny and diel-activity patterns within and among tetrapod groups, rather than just climate and the endotherm-ectotherm divide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-494
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Body temperature
  • diel activity
  • endothermy
  • evolution
  • niche conservatism
  • phylogeny
  • physiology
  • vertebrate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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