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Keywords:

  • Cranial sutures;
  • sexual dimorphism;
  • Ovis;
  • functional morphology;
  • ontogeny

Sutural complexity (the degree of interdigitation) of 13 cranial sutures was compared between male and female wild sheep (Ovis orientalis) to investigate a morphological feature that is potentially important with respect to stress transmission in the skulls of males during fighting. Most facial sutures (four of six) were not sexually dimorphic, but two sutures, the maxillojugal and jugolacrimal, had greater complexity in males than in females, suggesting that significant forces may be transmitted through the facial region of rams, most likely during horn clashing. Most of the braincase sutures (five of seven) were more complex in males than in females, and different factors appear to underlie this sexual dimorphism. In females, increased complexity of sutures during ontogeny was predicted best by variables measuring growth of the skull, brain or face, while in males, changes in complexity were predicted best by variables representing mechanical loading and frontal bone growth.