A synthesis of major environmental-body size clines of the sexes within arthropod species

Curtis R. Horne, Andrew G. Hirst*, David Atkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Body size at maturity often varies with environmental conditions, as well as between males and females within a species [termed Sexual Size Dimorphism (SSD)]. Variation in body size clines between the sexes can determine the degree to which SSD varies across environmental gradients. We use a meta-analytic approach to investigate whether major biogeographical and temporal (intra-annually across seasons) body size clines differ systematically between the sexes in arthropods. We consider 329 intra-specific environmental gradients in adult body size across latitude, altitude and with seasonal temperature variation, representing 126 arthropod species from 16 taxonomic orders. On average, we observe greater variability in male than female body size across latitude, consistent with the hypothesis that, over evolutionary time, directional selection has acted more strongly on male than female size. In contrast, neither sex exhibits consistently greater proportional changes in body size than the other sex across altitudinal or seasonal gradients, akin to earlier findings for plastic temperature-size responses measured in the laboratory. Variation in the degree to which body size gradients differ between the sexes cannot be explained by a range of potentially influential factors, including environment type (aquatic vs. terrestrial), voltinism, mean species’ body size, degree of SSD, or gradient direction. Ultimately, if we are to make better sense of the patterns (or lack thereof) in SSD across environmental gradients, we require a more detailed understanding of the underlying selective pressures driving clines in body size. Such understanding will provide a more comprehensive hypothesis-driven approach to explaining biogeographical and temporal variation in SSD.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)343-353
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Altitude
  • Biogeography
  • Seasonality
  • Sexual size dimorphism
  • Temperature

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