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Keywords:

  • allometry;
  • scaling;
  • transformation;
  • logarithms;
  • nonlinear regression

Several attempts have been made in recent years to formulate a general explanation for what appear to be recurring patterns of allometric variation in morphology, physiology, and ecology of both plants and animals (e.g. the Metabolic Theory of Ecology, the Allometric Cascade, the Metabolic-Level Boundaries hypothesis). However, published estimates for parameters in allometric equations often are inaccurate, owing to undetected bias introduced by the traditional method for fitting lines to empirical data. The traditional method entails fitting a straight line to logarithmic transformations of the original data and then back-transforming the resulting equation to the arithmetic scale. Because of fundamental changes in distributions attending transformation of predictor and response variables, the traditional practice may cause influential outliers to go undetected, and it may result in an underparameterized model being fitted to the data. Also, substantial bias may be introduced by the insidious rotational distortion that accompanies regression analyses performed on logarithms. Consequently, the aforementioned patterns of allometric variation may be illusions, and the theoretical explanations may be wide of the mark. Problems attending the traditional procedure can be largely avoided in future research simply by performing preliminary analyses on arithmetic values and by validating fitted equations in the arithmetic domain. The goal of most allometric research is to characterize relationships between biological variables and body size, and this is done most effectively with data expressed in the units of measurement. Back-transforming from a straight line fitted to logarithms is not a generally reliable way to estimate an allometric equation in the original scale.