• allometry;
  • genitalia;
  • sexual selection;
  • stabilizing selection


The male genitalia of arthropods consistently show negative static allometry (the genitalia of small males of a species are disproportionally large, and those of large males are disproportionally small). We discuss relations between the ‘one-size-fits-all’ hypothesis to explain this allometry and the regimes of selection that may be acting on genitalia. We focus on the contrasts between directional vs. stabilizing selection, and natural vs. sexual selection. In addition, we point out some common methodological problems in studies of genital allometry. One-size-fits-all types of arguments for negative allometry imply net stabilizing selection, but the effects of stabilizing selection on allometry will be weaker when the correlation between body size and the trait size is weaker. One-size-fits-all arguments can involve natural as well as sexual selection, and negative allometry can also result from directional selection. Several practical problems make direct tests of whether directional or stabilizing selection is acting difficult. One common methodological problem in previous studies has been concentration on absolute rather than relative values of the allometric slopes of genitalia; there are many reasons to doubt the usefulness of comparing absolute slopes with the usual reference value of 1.00. Another problem has been the failure to recognize that size and shape are independent traits of genitalia; rapid divergence in the shape of genitalia is thus not paradoxical with respect to the reduced variation in their sizes that is commonly associated with negative allometric scaling.