Domestic chickens defy Rensch's rule: sexual size dimorphism in chicken breeds

V Remes, Tamas Szekely

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42 Citations (SciVal)


Sexual size dimorphism (SSD), i.e. the difference in sizes of males and females, is a key evolutionary feature that is related to ecology, behaviour and life histories of organisms. Although the basic patterns of SSD are well documented for several major taxa, the processes generating SSD are poorly understood. Domesticated animals offer excellent opportunities for testing predictions of functional explanations of SSD theory because domestic stocks were often selected by humans for particular desirable traits. Here, we analyse SSD in 139 breeds of domestic chickens Gallus gallus domesticus and compare them to their wild relatives (pheasants, partridges and grouse; Phasianidae, 53 species). SSD was male-biased in all chicken breeds, because males were 21.5 +/- 0.55% (mean +/- SE) heavier than females. The extent of SSD did not differ among breed categories (cock fighting, ornamental and breeds selected for egg and meat production). SSD of chicken breeds was not different from wild pheasants and allies (23.5 +/- 3.43%), although the wild ancestor of chickens, the red jungle fowl G. gallus, had more extreme SSD (male 68.8% heavier) than any domesticated breed. Male mass and female mass exhibited positive allometry among pheasants and allies, consistently with the Rensch's rule reported from various taxa. However, body mass scaled isometrically across chicken breeds. The latter results suggest that sex-specific selection on males vs. females is necessary to generate positive allometry, i.e. the Rensch's rule, in wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2754-2759
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • sexual size dimorphism
  • allometry
  • domestication
  • sexually antagonistic
  • Gallus gallus
  • Phasianidae


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