Ontogenetic approaches to sexual dimorphism in anthropoids

Brian T Shea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Studies of sexual dimorphism have traditionally focused on the static differences in size and shape between adult males and females. In this paper, I suggest that an investigation of the ontogenetic bases of sexual dimorphism can provide new insights and information unobtainable from studies concerned only with adult endpoints. While growth is often viewed as simply the developmental pathway utilized to attain final adult size and shape, we must recognize that it is the entire pattern of sex-differentiated growth, and not merely the adult endpoints, which is adaptive and the target of natural selection. The importance of an ontogenetic approach to the analysis of sexual dimorphism is also demonstrated by the fact that a given morphological result (e.g., a certain degree of adult weight dimorphism) may be attained by very different developmental processes, signalling selection for quite different factors. The need to analyze the ontogenetic bases of sexual dimorphism in size and shape has recently been recognized by Jarman, in his study of dimorphism in large terrestrial herbivores. Here I combine aspects of Jarman's approach with those of allometry and heterochrony in an analysis of sexual dimorphism in selected anthropoid primates. It is demonstrated that although all dimorphic anthropoids appear to be characterized by some bimaturism, the degree varies significantly. Marked weight dimorphism in certain species is primarily produced by an increased differentiation of female and male growth rates, while in other species the primary change involves differences in the time or duration of growth between the sexes. These variations are illustrated with anthropoid genera such as Miopithecus, Cercopithecus, Erythrocebus, Macaca, Papio, Pan, and Gorilla. It is suggested that additional ontogenetic investigations of other anthropoids will help clarify some of the socioecological bases of this variation in the ways of attaining an adult dimorphic state. This will contribute to our understanding of the complex factors underlying and producing sexual dimorphism in primates and other mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1986


  • Allometry
  • Dimorphism
  • Ontogeny
  • Primates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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