ABSTRACT

The magnitude of many biological traits relates strongly and regularly to body size. Consequently, a major goal of comparative biology is to understand and apply these ‘size-scaling’ relationships, traditionally quantified by using linear regression analyses based on log-transformed data. However, recently some investigators have questioned this traditional method, arguing that linear or non-linear regression based on untransformed arithmetic data may provide better statistical fits than log-linear analyses. Furthermore, they advocate the replacement of the traditional method by alternative specific methods on a case-by-case basis, based simply on best-fit criteria. Here, I argue that the use of logarithms in scaling analyses presents multiple valuable advantages, both statistical and conceptual. Most importantly, log-transformation allows biologically meaningful, properly scaled (scale-independent) comparisons of organisms of different size, whereas non-scaled (scale-dependent) analyses based on untransformed arithmetic data do not. Additionally, log-based analyses can readily reveal biologically and theoretically relevant discontinuities in scale invariance during developmental or evolutionary increases in body size that are not shown by linear or non-linear arithmetic analyses. In this way, log-transformation advances our understanding of biological scaling conceptually, not just statistically. I hope that my Commentary helps students, non-specialists and other interested readers to understand the general benefits of using log-transformed data in size-scaling analyses, and stimulates advocates of arithmetic analyses to show how they may improve our understanding of scaling conceptually, not just statistically.

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