Rensch’s rule in avian lice: contradictory allometric trends for sexual size dimorphism

Imre Sándor Piross, Andrea Harnos, Lajos Rózsa

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Rensch’s rule (RR) postulates that in comparisons across closely related species, male body size relative to female size increases with the average size of the species. This holds true in several vertebrate and also in certain free-living invertebrate taxa. Here, we document the validity of RR in avian lice using three families (Philopteridae, Menoponidae, and Ricinidae). Using published data on the body length of 989 louse species, subspecies, or distinct intraspecific lineages, we applied phylogenetic reduced major axis regression to analyse the body size of females vs. males while accounting for phylogenetic non-independence. Our results indicate that philopterid and menoponid lice follow RR, while ricinids exhibit the opposite pattern. In the case of philopterids and menoponids, we argue that larger-bodied bird species tend to host lice that are both larger in size and more abundant. Thus, sexual selection acting on males makes them relatively larger, and this is stronger than fecundity selection acting on females. Ricinids exhibit converse RR, likely because fecundity selection is stronger in their case.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7908
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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