Although it has been the subject of verbal theory since Darwin, the evolution of morphological trait allometries remains poorly understood, especially in the context of sexual selection. Here we present an allocation trade-off model that predicts the optimal pattern of allometry under different selective regimes. We derive a general solution that has a simple and intuitive interpretation and use it to investigate several examples of fitness functions. Verbal arguments have suggested cost or benefit scenarios under which sexual selection on signal or weapon traits may favor larger individuals with disproportionately larger traits (i.e., positive allometry). However, our results suggest that this is necessarily true only under a precisely specified set of conditions: positive allometry will evolve when the marginal fitness gains from an increase in relative trait size are greater for large individuals than for small ones. Thus, the optimal allometric pattern depends on the precise nature of net selection, and simple examples readily yield isometry, positive or negative allometry, or polymorphisms corresponding to sigmoidal scaling. The variety of allometric patterns predicted by our model is consistent with the diversity of patterns observed in empirical studies on the allometries of sexually selected traits. More generally, our findings highlight the difficulty of inferring complex underlying processes from simple emergent patterns.
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Vol. 57 • No. 11