Allometric constraints and the evolution of allometry

Kjetil L. Voje et al. in Evolution

Kjetil L. VojeThomas F. Hansen, Camilla K. Egset, Geir H. Bolstad and Christophe Pélabon


Morphological traits often covary within and among species according to simple power laws referred to as allometry. Such allometric relationships may result from common growth regulation, and this has given rise to the hypothesis that allometric exponents may have low evolvability and constrain trait evolution. We formalize hypotheses for how allometry may constrain morphological trait evolution across taxa, and test these using more than 300 empirical estimates of static (within-species) allometric relations of animal morphological traits. Although we find evidence for evolutionary changes in allometric parameters on million-year, cross-species time scales, there is limited evidence for microevolutionary changes in allometric slopes. Accordingly, we find that static allometries often predict evolutionary allometries on the subspecies level, but less so across species. Although there is a large body of work on allometry in a broad sense that includes all kinds of morphological trait–size relationships, we found relatively little information about the evolution of allometry in the narrow sense of a power relationship. Despite the many claims of microevolutionary changes of static allometries in the literature, hardly any of these apply to narrow-sense allometry, and we argue that the hypothesis of strongly constrained static allometric slopes remains viable.

Article first published online: 19 December 2013
Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 866–885, March 2014

Tags: Evolution;
Published Mar. 11, 2014 1:04 PM