Body size variation in insects: a macroecological perspective

16 May 2011

Body size is a key feature of organisms and varies continuously because of the effects of natural selection on the size-dependency of resource acquisition and mortality rates. This review provides a critical and synthetic overview of body size variation in insects from a predominantly macroecological (large-scale temporal and spatial) perspective. Because of the importance of understanding the proximate determinants of adult size, it commences with a brief summary of the physiological mechanisms underlying adult body size and its variation, based mostly on findings for the model species Drosophila melanogaster and Manduca sexta. Variation in nutrition and temperature have variable effects on critical weight, the interval to cessation of growth (or terminal growth period) and growth rates, so influencing final adult size. Ontogenetic and phylogenetic variation in size, compensatory growth, scaling at the intra- and interspecific levels, sexual size dimorphism, and body size optimisation are then reviewed in light of their influences on individual and species body size frequency distributions. Explicit attention is given to evolutionary trends, including gigantism, Cope’s rule and the rates at which size change has taken place, and to temporal ecological trends such as variation in size with succession and size-selectivity during the invasion process. Large-scale spatial variation in size at the intraspecific, interspecific and assemblage levels is considered, with special attention being given to the mechanisms proposed to underlie clinal variation in adult body size. Finally, areas particularly in need of additional research are identified.