Sexual dimorphism in primate evolution



Sexual dimorphism is a pervasive phenomenon among anthropoid primates. Comparative analyses over the past 30 years have greatly expanded our understanding of both variation in the expression of dimorphism among primates, and the underlying causes of sexual dimorphism. Dimorphism in body mass and canine tooth size is familiar, as is pelage and “sex skin” dimorphism. More recent analyses are documenting subtle differences in the pattern of skeletal dimorphism among primates. Comparative analyses have corroborated the sexual selection hypotheses, and have provided a more detailed understanding of the relationship between sexual selection, natural selection, and mating systems in primates. A clearer picture is emerging of the relative contribution of various selective and nonselective mechanisms in the evolution and expression of dimorphism. Most importantly, recent studies have shown that dimorphism is the product of changes in both male and female traits. Developmental studies demonstrate the variety of ontogenetic pathways that can lead to dimorphism, and provide additional insight into the selective mechanisms that influence dimorphism throughout the lifetime of an animal. Evidence from the fossil record suggests that dimorphism probably evolved in parallel twice, and the dimorphism in some extinct hominoids probably exceeded that of any living primate. Our advances in understanding the behavioral/ecological correlates of dimorphism in living primates have not improved our ability to reconstruct social systems in extinct species on the basis of dimorphism alone, beyond the inference of polygyny or intense male-male competition. However, our understanding of the behavioral/ecological correlates of growth and development, and of the expression of dimorphism as a function of separate changes in male and female traits, offers great potential for inferring evolutionary changes in behavior over time. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 44:25–53, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.