In many animals, body size plays an important role in determining both ecological success and mating success. Thus, the expression of body size within a population is often the result of the interaction between natural selection and sexual selection. Here, I examine the mechanistic basis for a large male mating advantage in two freshwater amphipod species that differ ecologically. Traditionally, size-biased mating patterns in amphipods have been attributed to the advantage of large size in male–male competition for females. In this study, when direct male–male interactions were eliminated (via tethering), large males had a mating advantage similar to that observed under control conditions (males free to interact) and in previous field and laboratory studies. These results suggest that male–female interactions play an important role in selecting for large male size. There was, however, some evidence for male takeovers in the species that shows the stronger size-based mating bias. Takeovers occurred in 33% of trials when smaller males were in the position of defender, i.e. paired with the female. Therefore, takeovers by larger males may also contribute to the strong size-based mating biases observed in this species.