Selection for increased male size predicts variation in sexual size dimorphism among fish species

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Variation in the degree of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) among taxa is generally considered to arise from differences in the relative intensity of male-male competition and fecundity selection. One might predict, therefore, that SSD will vary systematically with (1) the intensity of sexual selection for increased male size, and (2) the intensity of fecundity selection for increased female size. To test these two fundamental hypotheses, we conducted a phylogenetic comparative analysis of SSD in fish. Specifically, using records of body length at first sexual maturity from FishBase, we quantified variation in the magnitude and direction of SSD in more than 600 diverse freshwater and marine fish species, from sticklebacks to sharks. Although female-biased SSD was common, and thought to be driven primarily by fecundity selection, variation in SSD was not dependent on either the allometric scaling of reproductive energy output or fecundity in female fish. Instead, systematic patterns based on habitat and life-history characteristics associated with varying degrees of male-male competition and paternal care strongly suggest that adaptive variation in SSD is driven by the intensity of sexual selection for increased male size.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20192640
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1918
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Male–male competition
  • Life history
  • Fecundity selection
  • Body size

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