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Keywords:

  • Allometry;
  • body shape;
  • body size;
  • publication bias;
  • sampling bias;
  • sexual selection

One of the most pervasive ideas in the sexual selection literature is the belief that sexually selected traits almost universally exhibit positive static allometries (i.e., within a sample of conspecific adults, larger individuals have disproportionally larger traits). In this review, I show that this idea is contradicted by empirical evidence and theory. Although positive allometry is a typical attribute of some sexual traits in certain groups, the preponderance of positively allometric sexual traits in the empirical literature apparently results from a sampling bias reflecting a fascination with unusually exaggerated (bizarre) traits. I review empirical examples from a broad range of taxa illustrating the diversity of allometric patterns exhibited by signal, weapon, clasping and genital traits, as well as nonsexual traits. This evidence suggests that positive allometry may be the exception rather than the rule in sexual traits, that directional sexual selection does not necessarily lead to the evolution of positive allometry and, conversely, that positive allometry is not necessarily a consequence of sexual selection, and that many sexual traits exhibit sex differences in allometric intercept rather than slope. Such diversity in the allometries of secondary sexual traits is to be expected, given that optimal allometry should reflect resource allocation trade-offs, and patterns of sexual and viability selection on both trait size and body size. An unbiased empirical assessment of the relation between sexual selection and allometry is an essential step towards an understanding of this diversity.