The evolution of sexual size dimorphism in prosimian primates


  • Peter M. Kappeler

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
    • Dept. of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27706
    Search for more papers by this author


The four major hypotheses advanced to explain the evolution of sexually dimorphic characters invoke sexual selection, natural selection, allometry, and phylogenetic inertia. In this paper, each of these hypotheses is examined for its usefulness in explaining the inter-specific variation in sexual size dimorphism among prosimian primates. Data on body weight and the degree of sexual dimorphism were obtained for 32 prosimian and 95 simian species. Although prosimians exhibited significantly less sexual dimorphism than simians, there was nevertheless significant variation in dimorphism among them. The degree of sexual dimorphism in prosimians did not show significant variance at any taxonomic level, but the majority of variance occurred within genera. Thus, sexual dimorphism in size among prosimians is probably not constrained by phylogeny at the generic level and above. There was no significant correlation between body size and the degree of sexual dimorphism in prosimians, suggesting the absence of an allometric effect. Similarly there was no relationship between body size and sexual dimorphism among simians in this size range. This result suggested that the expression of sexual dimorphism may nevertheless be influenced by absolute size. In prosimians, inter-specific differences in sexual dimorphism were not correlated with variance in male reproductive success. It is suggested that speed and agility of males, rather than size and strength, might have been favored by intra-sexual selection in most prosimians. It seems also plausible that the relative monomorphism of most prosimians, especially in the Lemuriformes, might be a result of increased female size favored by natural selection. Consideration of all natural and sexual selective pressures that affect size in both sexes separately is required to understand the adaptive function and evolution of primate size dimorphism.