The dilemma of choosing a reference character for measuring sexual size dimorphism, sexual body component dimorphism, and character scaling: cryptic dimorphism and allometry in the scorpion Hadrurus arizonensis

Fox, G.A.; Cooper, A.M.; Hayes, W.K.

Plos one 10(3): E0120392


ISSN/ISBN: 1932-6203
PMID: 25793523
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120392
Accession: 059053862

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Sexual differences in morphology, ranging from subtle to extravagant, occur commonly in many animal species. These differences can encompass overall body size (sexual size dimorphism, SSD) or the size and/or shape of specific body parts (sexual body component dimorphism, SBCD). Interacting forces of natural and sexual selection shape much of the expression of dimorphism we see, though non-adaptive processes may be involved. Differential scaling of individual features can result when selection favors either exaggerated (positive allometry) or reduced (negative allometry) size during growth. Studies of sexual dimorphism and character scaling rely on multivariate models that ideally use an unbiased reference character as an overall measure of body size. We explored several candidate reference characters in a cryptically dimorphic taxon, Hadrurus arizonensis. In this scorpion, essentially every body component among the 16 we examined could be interpreted as dimorphic, but identification of SSD and SBCD depended on which character was used as the reference (prosoma length, prosoma area, total length, principal component 1, or metasoma segment 1 width). Of these characters, discriminant function analysis suggested that metasoma segment 1 width was the most appropriate. The pattern of dimorphism in H. arizonensis mirrored that seen in other more obviously dimorphic scorpions, with static allometry trending towards isometry in most characters. Our findings are consistent with the conclusions of others that fecundity selection likely favors a larger prosoma in female scorpions, whereas sexual selection may favor other body parts being larger in males, especially the metasoma, pectines, and possibly the chela. For this scorpion and probably most other organisms, the choice of reference character profoundly affects interpretations of SSD, SBCD, and allometry. Thus, researchers need to broaden their consideration of an appropriate reference and exercise caution in interpreting findings. We highly recommend use of discriminant function analysis to identify the least-biased reference character.