Assortative mating by size: A meta-analysis of mating patterns in water striders

Göran Arnqvist, Locke Rowe, James J. Krupa, Andy Sih

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Assortative mating by size is a common mating pattern that can be generated by several different behavioural mechanisms, with different evolutionary implications. Assortative mating is typically associated with sexual selection and has been regarded as an attribute of populations, species, mating systems or even higher order taxa. In most animal groups, however, appropriate analyses of assortative mating at these different levels are lacking and the causes and forms of assortative mating are poorly understood. Here, we analyse 45 different population level estimates of assortative mating and non-random mating by size in seven confamiliar species of water striders that share a common mating system. A hierarchical comparative analysis shows that virtually all the variance within the clade occurs among samples within species. We then employ meta-analysis to estimate the overall strength of assortative mating, to determine the form of assortative mating and to further assess potential differences among species as well as the probable causes of assortative mating in this group of insects. We found overall weak but highly significant positive assortative mating. We show that analyses of the degree of heteroscedasticity in plots of male versus female size are critical, since the evolutionary implications of 'true' and 'apparent' assortative mating differ widely and conclude that the positive assortative mating observed in water striders was of the 'true' rather than the 'apparent' form. Further, within samples, mating individuals were significantly larger than non-mating individuals in both males and females. All of these non-random mating patterns were consistent among species and we conclude that weak positive assortative mating by size is a general characteristic of those water strider species that share this mating system. We use our results to illustrate the importance of distinguishing between different forms of assortative mating, to discriminate between various behavioural causes of assortative mating and to assess potential sources of interpopulational variance in estimates of assortative mating. Finally, we discuss the value of using meta-analytic techniques for detecting overall patterns in multiple studies of non-random mating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-284
Number of pages20
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Assortative mating
  • Genetic variation
  • Gerridae
  • Meta-analysis
  • Non-random mating
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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