When Rensch meets Bergmann: Does sexual size dimorphism change systematically with latitude?

Wolf U. Blanckenhorn, R. Craig Stillwell, Kyle A. Young, Charles W. Fox, Kyle G. Ashton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Scopus citations


Bergmann's and Rensch's rules describe common large-scale patterns of body size variation, but their underlying causes remain elusive. Bergmann's rule states that organisms are larger at higher latitudes (or in colder climates). Rensch's rule states that male body size varies (or evolutionarily diverges) more than female body size among species, resulting in slopes greater than one when male size is regressed on female size. We use published studies of sex-specific latitudinal body size clines in vertebrates and invertebrates to investigate patterns equivalent to Rensch's rule among populations within species and to evaluate their possible relation to Bergmann's rule. Consistent with previous studies, we found a continuum of Bergmann (larger at higher latitudes: 58 species) and converse Bergmann body size clines (larger at lower latitudes: 40 species). Ignoring latitude, male size was more variable than female size in only 55 of 98 species, suggesting that intraspecific variation in sexual size dimorphism does not generally conform to Rensch's rule. In contrast, in a significant majority of species (66 of 98) male latitudinal body size clines were steeper than those of females. This pattern is consistent with a latitudinal version of Rensch's rule, and suggests that some factor that varies systematically with latitude is responsible for producing Rensch's rule among populations within species. Identifying the underlying mechanisms will require studies quantifying latitudinal variation in sexspecific natural and sexual selection on body size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2004-2011
Number of pages8
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Bergmann's rule
  • Body size
  • Meta analysis
  • Rensch's rule
  • Sexual selection
  • Sexual size dimorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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