Ontogeny of body size variation in African apes

Steven R. Leigh*, Brian T. Shea

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Size variation in African apes (Gorilla gorilla [gorilla], Pan paniscus [pygmy chimpanzee], and Pan troglodytes ['common' chimpanzee]) is substantial, both within and between species. We investigate the possible evolutionary significance of this variation through an analysis of the ontogeny of size variation in this group. In addition, we highlight possible areas of future endocrinological research, and evaluate recently proposed alternative models that attempt to account for ontogenetic variation in apes. The present study shows that intergeneric variation in size is largely a consequence of differences among species in the rate of body weight growth. Interspecific size variation in Pan is a product of both rate and duration differences in growth. The ontogenetic bases of sexual dimorphism vary in this group. Dimorphism is largely a result of sex differences in the duration of body weight growth in gorillas and pygmy chimpanzees, but results from differences in the rate of growth in common chimpanzees. Ontogenetic analyses largely confirm earlier interpretations, but with better data and methods. The great degree of ontogenetic variation within and among these species, especially in the timing and magnitude of 'pubertal' growth spurts, implies that studies of endocrine growth control in African apes could be a productive line of future research. We also suggest that ontogenetic variation can be understood with respect to ecological risks. Growth rates seem to be negatively correlated with ecological risk in African apes, suggesting links between ontogenetic patterns and social and ecological variables. High growth rates in gorillas compared to Pan are most consistent with this model. Variation between chimpanzees and pygmy chimpanzees (especially females) also seem to fit predictions of this model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-65
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Growth and development
  • Growth spurt
  • Primates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

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