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Am Nat. 2006 Apr;167(4):606-11; discussion 612-8. Epub 2006 Mar 13.

A matter of measurements: challenges and approaches in the comparative analysis of static allometries.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Indiana Molecular Biology Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.


Comparisons of static allometries are frequently used to gain insights into patterns and processes underlying morphological and developmental evolution. A study by J. L. Tomkins and coworkers, recently published in the American Naturalist, examined complex nonlinear allometries in three insect species in which males are dimorphic in the expression of secondary sexual traits. Employing a novel approach to analyzing male allometries in these organisms, the authors were able to show that developmental reprogramming of trait primordia is not necessary to explain allometric scaling in two of the species examined, contrary to several previous studies on the same species. Instead, male dimorphisms could be explained by simple exponential growth, an important result that carries with it major evolutionary and developmental implications. Using this study as an example, I highlight some of the methodological challenges involved in analyzing and comparing static allometries and in inferring the developmental processes that underlie them. I end by discussing how correct application of hypothesis testing, on one side, and basic anatomy and developmental biology, on the other, should guide how morphology is measured.

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