Is non-loglinear allometry a statistical artifact?




The allometric equation, y = axb, is commonly fitted to data indirectly by transforming predictor (x) and response (y) variables to logarithms, fitting a straight line to the transformations, and then back-transforming (exponentiating) the resulting equation to the original arithmetic scale. Sometimes, however, transformation fails to linearize the observations, thereby giving rise to what has come to be known as non-loglinear allometry. A smooth curve for observations displayed on a log–log plot is usually interpreted to mean that the scaling exponent in the allometric equation is a continuously changing function of body size, whereas a breakpoint between two (or more) linear segments on a log–log plot is typically taken to mean that the exponent changes abruptly, coincident with some important milestone in development. I applied simple graphical and statistical procedures in re-analyses of three well-known examples of non-loglinear allometry, and showed in every instance that the relationship between predictor and response can be described in the original scale by simple functions with constant values for the exponent b. In no instance does the allometric exponent change during the course of development. Transformation of data to logarithms created new distributions that actually obscured the relationships between predictor and response variables in these investigations, and led to erroneous perceptions of growth. Such confounding effects of transformation are not limited to non-loglinear allometry but are common to all applications of the allometric method. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ••, ••–••.