The evolution of sexual size dimorphism in cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus, Leporidae)

Journal Article (Journal Article)

In mammals, 'female-biased' sexual size dimorphism (SSD), in which females are larger than males, is uncommon. In the present study, we examined Sylvilagus, a purported case of female-biased SSD, for evolutionary correlations among species between SSD, body-size, and life-history variables. We find that: (1) although most species are female-biased, the degree and direction of SSD vary more than was previously recognized and (2) the degree of SSD decreases with increasing body size. Hence, Sylvilagus provides a new example, unusual for a female-biased taxon, in which allometry for SSD is consistent with 'Rensch's Rule'. As a corollary to Rensch's Rule, we observe that changes in SSD in Sylvilagus are typically associated with larger, more significant changes in males than females. Female-biased SSD could be produced by selection for larger females, smaller males, or both. Although larger female size may be related to high fecundity and the extremely rapid fetal and neonatal growth in Sylvilagus, we find little evidence for a correlation between SSD and various fecundity-related traits in among-species comparisons. Smaller male size may confer greater reproductive success through greater mobility and reduced energetic requirements. We propose that a suite of traits (female dispersion, large male home ranges, reduced aggression, and a promiscuous mating system) has favoured smaller males and thus influenced the evolution of SSD in cottontails. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Davis, CM; Roth, VL

Published Date

  • September 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 95 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 141 - 156

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1095-8312

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0024-4066

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2008.01035.x

Citation Source

  • Scopus