Evolution of body size in the genus Damaliscus: a comparison with hartebeest Alcelaphus spp.


Isabella Capellini. Current address: Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, 43 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN, UK. Tel: 0044-(0)191-3346177;
Fax: 0044-(0)191-3346101
Email: isabella.capellini@durham.ac.uk


In species with low levels of sexual size dimorphism, it may be relatively easy to detect the role of natural selection in the evolution of body size. Habitat primary production (HPP) appears to be a key factor in the divergence of size in the hartebeest clade (Alcelaphus spp.), such that subspecies in less productive savannahs are smaller than those in richer ones. Here I test whether a similar pattern exists within the genus Damaliscus (topi and their allies). Basal skull length was used as a surrogate of body size and measured in the seven allopatric subspecies of Damaliscus. Means for each subspecies and sex were regressed against climatic factors as surrogates of HPP. Variation in skull length across Damaliscus taxa was less than in hartebeest. Two clusters were present in both sexes and corresponded to the distinction between the species, Damaliscus dorcas and Damaliscus lunatus. This may reflect differences in productivity between edaphic grasslands, occupied by all D. lunatus, and dry grasslands, occupied by D. dorcas. Mean annual rainfall was the best predictor of body size in males and showed a non-significant positive tendency in females. After accounting for phylogenetic effects, these correlations were both non-significant. Edaphic grasslands might be less dependent on precipitation for primary production because the impeded drainage of their soil prolongs water availability after the end of the rains. Furthermore, they are probably more consistent in productivity across African regions than secondary grasslands and savannah woodlands, which rely on rainfall for grass growth. These properties of edaphic grasslands may explain why size in Damaliscus appears to be less sensitive to variation in rainfall and less variable across subspecies than in Alcelaphus.