Age- and sex-associated variations in the directional asymmetry of rhesus macaque forelimb bones



Several investigators have questioned the significance of handedness as an explanation of directional forelimb asymmetries, yet little has been done to isolate other explanatory factors. In this investigation, we analyze 61 female and 76 male rhesus macaque skeletons for evidence of age-and/or sex-associated variations in ten forelimb bone measurements. All significant directional asymmetries are found to favor the right side. Although some of these asymmetries are found to favor the right side. Although some of these asymmetries are compatible with the interpretation of muscle hypertrophy associated with preferential use of the right forelimb, the overall pattern suggests that age- and sex-related ontogenetic factors deserve equal consideration. Significant sex differences in asymmetry means are present within and across age groups (juveniles, subadults, and adults), and numerous changes in asymmetry with age are also found. A pattern of decreasing asymmetry with age was found in males, with 40% of the ten measures being asymmetrical in juveniles, 30% in subadults, and 20% in adults. Among females, this pattern is reversed. No significant asymmetries were found for juvenile or subadult females, whereas 40% of the measures were asymmetrical in adult females. We conclude that greater consideration of age- and sex-related factors is necessary when drawing samples for the purpose of investigating asymmetries, and an awareness of trait-specific age and sex patterns of variation is necessary when citing forelimb asymmetries in demographically nonrepresentative populations as evidence of handedness or other behavioral asymmetries.