Sexual segregation in western grey kangaroos: testing alternative evolutionary hypotheses


Abigail M. MacFarlane, Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria, 3125, Australia.


In sexually dimorphic ungulates, sexual segregation is hypothesized to have evolved because of sex-specific differences in body size and/or reproductive strategies. We tested these alternative hypotheses in kangaroos, which are ecological analogues of ungulates. Kangaroos exhibit a wide range of body sizes, particularly among mature males, and so the effects of body size and sex can be distinguished. We tested predictions derived from these hypotheses by comparing the distribution of three sex–sex size classes of western grey kangaroos Macropus fuliginosus, in different habitats, and the composition of groups of kangaroos, across seasons. In accordance with the predation risk-reproductive strategy hypothesis, during the non-breeding season, females, which were more susceptible to predation than larger males, and were accompanied by vulnerable young-at-foot, were over-represented in secure habitats. Large males, which were essentially immune to predation, occurred more often than expected in nutrient-rich habitat, and small males, which faced competing demands of predator avoidance and feeding, were intermediate between females and large males in their distribution across habitats. During the breeding season, females continued to be over-represented in secure habitats when their newly emerged pouch young were most vulnerable to predation. All males occupied these same habitats to maximize their chances of securing mates. Consistent with the social hypotheses, groups composed of individuals of the same sex, irrespective of body size, were over-represented in the population during the non-breeding season, while during the breeding season all males sought females so that mixed-sex groups predominated. These results indicate that body size and reproductive strategies are both important, yet independent, factors influencing segregation in western grey kangaroos.