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Open Access Research article

Does life history shape sexual size dimorphism in anurans? A comparative analysis

Xu Han12 and Jinzhong Fu1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Present address: Department of Biology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-27

Published: 31 January 2013



The evolution of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) is likely constrained by life history. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we examined correlations between SSD among anurans and their life history traits, including egg size, clutch size, mating combat, and parental care behaviour. We used sexual dimorphism index (SDI = Body-sizefemale /Body-sizemale –1) as the measurement for SSD. Body size, life history and phylogenetic data were collected from published literature. Data were analysed at two levels: all anuran species and within individual families.


Female-biased SSD is the predominant form in anurans. SSD decreases along with the body size increase, following the prediction of Rensch’s rule, but the magnitude of decrease is very small. More importantly, female body size is positively correlated with both fecundity related traits, egg size and clutch size, and SDI is also positively correlated with clutch size, suggesting fecundity advantage may have driven the evolution of female body size and consequently leads to the evolution of female-biased SSD. Furthermore, the presence of parental care, male parental care in particular, is negatively correlated with SDI, indicating that species with parental care tend to have a smaller SDI. A negative correlation between clutch size and parental care further suggests that parental care likely reduces the fecundity selection pressure on female body size. On the other hand, there is a general lack of significant correlation between SDI and the presence of male combat behaviour, which is surprising and contradictory to previous studies.


We find clear evidence to support the ‘fecundity advantage hypothesis’ and the ‘parental care hypothesis’ in shaping SSD in anurans. Nevertheless, the relationships of both parental care and combat behaviour to the evolution of SSD are complex in anurans and the extreme diversity of life history traits may have masked some potential interesting relationships. Our study represents the most comprehensive study of SSD in anurans to date.

Sexual size dimorphism; Phylogenetic comparative analysis; Life history; Anuran; Male combat; Parental care; Fecundity advantage; Rensch’s rule