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Potential causes and life-history consequences of sexual size dimorphism in mammals

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1. Male-biased sexual size dimorphism (SSD) in mammals has been explained by sexual selection favouring large, competitive males. However, new research has identified other potential factors leading to SSD. The aim of this review is to evaluate current research on the causes of SSD in mammals and to investigate some consequences of SSD, including costs to the larger sex and sexual segregation.

2. While larger males appear to gain reproductive benefits from their size, studies have also identified alternative mating strategies, unexpected variance in mating success and found no clear relationship between degree of polygyny and dimorphism. This implies that sexual selection is unlikely to be the single selective force directing SSD.

3. Latitude seems to influence SSD primarily through variation in overall body size and seasonal food availability, which affect potential for polygyny. Likewise, population density influences resource availability and evidence suggests that food scarcity differentially constrains the growth of the sexes. Diverging growth patterns between the sexes appear to be the primary physiological mechanism leading to SSD.

4. Female-biased dimorphism is most adequately explained by reduced male–male competition resulting in a decrease in male size. Female–female competition for dominance and resources, including mates, may also select for increased female size.

5. Most studies found that sexual segregation arises through asynchrony of activity budgets between the sexes. The larger sex can suffer sex-biased mortality through increased parasite load, selective predation and the difficulty associated with sustaining a larger body size under conditions of resource scarcity.

6. None of the variables considered here appears to contribute a disproportionate amount to SSD in mammals. Several promising avenues of research are currently overlooked and long-term studies, which have previously been biased toward ungulates, should be carried out on a variety of taxa.
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Keywords: Bergmann's Rule; growth rates; infanticide; mating success; reproductive strategy; sexual selection

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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