Allometry refers to the ways in which organismal shape is associated with size. It is a special case of integration, or the tendency for traits to covary, in that variation in size is ubiquitous and evolutionarily important. Allometric variation is so commonly observed that it is routinely removed from morphometric analyses or invoked as an explanation for evolutionary change. In this case, familiarity is mistaken for understanding because rarely do we know the mechanisms by which shape correlates with size or understand their significance. As with other forms of integration, allometric variation is generated by variation in developmental processes that affect multiple traits, resulting in patterns of covariation. Given this perspective, we can dissect the genetic and developmental determinants of allometric variation. Our work on the developmental and genetic basis for allometric variation in craniofacial shape in mice and humans has revealed that allometric variation is highly polygenic. Different measures of size are associated with distinct but overlapping patterns of allometric variation. These patterns converge in part on a common genetic basis. Finally, environmental modulation of size often generates variation along allometric trajectories, but the timing of genetic and environmental perturbations can produce deviations from allometric patterns when traits are differentially sensitive over developmental time. These results question the validity of viewing allometry as a singular phenomenon distinct from morphological integration more generally.
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