Geographic variation in size and sexual dimorphism of North American weasels



    1. Department of Zoological Research, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20008, U.S.A.
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    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, Sussex
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    • *Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS.


Geographic variation in size (skull length) and sexual dimorphism in Mustela erminea, Mustela frenata and Mustela nivalis in North America is described and analysed in relation to latitude, longitude, climatic variables, and sympatry or allopatry of these species. Only erminea increases in size with latitude; it does so regardless of the presence or absence of frenata or nivalis. Latitude is a better predictor of size in erminea than available measures of climate, seasonality or prey size. There is no evidence for character displacement between any pair of species. The sexes covary in size in frenata and erminea, and probably in nivalis, although geographic variation in sexual dimorphism occurs in frenata and erminea. The principal cause of sexual dimorphism appears to be sexual selection for large size in males rather than the high energetic requirements resulting from an elongate body shape. However, prey size may constrain female size (and possibly also male size). Regional differences in the abundance of prey during the growth of young weasels may affect adult size much more in males than in females and contribute to geographic variation in sexual dimorphism.