Proximate causes of Rensch's rule: Does sexual size dimorphism in arthropods result from sex differences in development time?

Wolf U. Blanckenhorn, Anthony F.G. Dixon, Daphne J. Fairbairn, Matthias W. Foellmer, Patricia Gibert, Kim Van Der Linde, Rudolf Meier, Sören Nylin, Scott Pitnick, Christopher Schoff, Martino Signorelli, Tiit Teder, Christer Wiklund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

211 Scopus citations


A prominent interspecific pattern of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) is Rensch's rule, according to which male body size is more variable or evolutionarily divergent than female body size. Assuming equal growth rates of males and females, SSD would be entirely mediated, and Rensch's rule proximately caused, by sexual differences in development times, or sexual bimaturism (SBM), with the larger sex developing for a proportionately longer time. Only a subset of the seven arthropod groups investigated in this study exhibits Rensch's rule. Furthermore, we found only a weak positive relationship between SSD and SBM overall, suggesting that growth rate differences between the sexes are more important than development time differences in proximately mediating SSD in a wide but by no means comprehensive range of arthropod taxa. Except when protandry is of selective advantage (as in many butterflies, Hymenoptera, and spiders), male development time was equal to (in water striders and beetles) or even longer than (in drosophilid and sepsid flies) that of females. Because all taxa show female-biased SSD, this implies faster growth of females in general, a pattern markedly different from that of primates and birds (analyzed here for comparison). We discuss three potential explanations for this pattern based on life-history trade-offs and sexual selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-257
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Allometry
  • Body size
  • Development time
  • Gonads
  • Growth
  • Rensch's rule
  • Sexual selection
  • Sexual size dimorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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