Age Classes and Sex Differences in the Skull of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779). A study Based on Bone Shape and Density

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Abstract

This study analyzes morphometrically 17 skulls of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus housed in different Italian Museums and collections. We considered several morphometric variables (31 linear, 1 volumetric and 1 surface area measurements). In addition, we identified, measured and compared two nonmorphometric variables, namely, the bone densities of selected areas obtained using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) device. The high correlation coefficient of all variables indicated continuous growth with the onset of age. The ranking of the hierarchical cluster analysis identified the presence of three main groups containing individuals of similar sizes: lactating pups and yearlings; subadult individuals and adult females; and adult males. Smaller groups were identified within these clusters, and their respective allocations into two subgroups were argued on the basis of skull development and other factors. The discriminant analysis of the three main groups indicated a discriminant diagnostic key, based on condilobasilar length (CBlr-L); maximum mandibular branch height (MB-H); and surface area of the bulla tympanica. The proposed diagnostic key is useful to classify monk seal skulls of unidentified age and sex. The data reported here suggest that in this species certain adult skull growth features (enhanced tympanic bullae surface area extension, occipital bone density) are sexually dimorphic and possibly related to specific anatomical functions. These functions may include an enhanced auditory capacity; an increased development of the cranial musculature capable of supporting a large skull and guaranteeing the mandibular strength necessary for mastication; and male to male social interactions. Anat Rec, 292:544–556, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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