Sexual dimorphism in the canines and skulls of carnivores: effects of size, phylogency, and behavioural ecology



Sexual dimorphism in craniodental features is investigated in a sample of 45 carnivore species in relation to allometry, phylogeny, and behavioural ecology. Dimorphism is more pronounced in both upper and lower canine size and strength than in carnassial size, skull dimensions and biomechanical features, but all dimorphism indices covary. As with most morphological characters, differences in canine sexual dimorphism are significantly related to phylogeny, estimated from either taxonomic rankings or a limited matrix of molecular distances; in particular, mustelids, felids and procyonids are more dimorphic than other carnivore families. Thus, because of problems related to species dependence in comparative data, remaining analyses are based on phylogenetically transformed values using a spatial autoregressive method.

In contrast to other mammals, sexual dimorphism in carnivore canines is not correlated with differences in body weight, skull length or basicranial axis length. Nor is it correlated with categorical variables of activity pattern, habitat, or diet. In our Carnivore sample, canine dimorphism is related only to breeding system: uni-male, group-living (harem) species have significantly greater canine dimorphism than multi-male, multi-female groups and monogamous pair-bonding species. By contrast, dimorphism in carnassial size is related to dietary differences, specifically greater dimorphism in meat-eating species, and not breeding patterns. Dimorphism in estimates of jaw muscle size suggest functional demands from both diet and breeding type. It is concluded that, befitting patterns of heterodont dentition, sexual selection influences variation in canine dimorphism while feeding ecology is related to carnassial dimorphism.