Sexual dimorphism in postcranial skeletal shape suggests male‐biased specialization for physical competition in anthropoid primates


Sexual dimorphism often arises as a response to selection on traits that improve a male’s ability to physically compete for access to mates. In primates, sexual dimorphism in body mass and canine size is more common in species with intense male–male competition. However, in addition to these traits, other musculoskeletal adaptations may improve male fighting performance. Postcranial traits that increase strength, agility, and maneuverability may also be under selection. To test the hypothesis that males, as compared to females, are more specialized for physical competition in their postcranial anatomy, we compared sex‐specific skeletal shape using a set of functional indices predicted to improve fighting performance. Across species, we found significant sexual dimorphism in a subset of these indices, indicating the presence of skeletal shape sexual dimorphism in our sample of anthropoid primates. Mean skeletal shape sexual dimorphism was positively correlated with sexual dimorphism in body size, an indicator of the intensity of male–male competition, even when controlling for both body mass and phylogenetic relatedness. These results suggest that selection on male fighting ability has played a role in the evolution of postcranial sexual dimorphism in primates.

Journal of Morphology 280, 731-738