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Am Nat. 2007 Sep;170(3):370-80. Epub 2007 Jul 19.

Sexual selection and senescence: male size-dimorphic ungulates evolved relatively smaller molars than females.

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  • 1Biology and Ethology Unit, University of Extremadura, 10071 Cáceres, Spain.


As a general rule, males of sexually dimorphic ungulate species have evolved larger body size than females but shorter reproductive life spans as elements of their strategy for intrasexual competition for mating opportunities. Evolutionary theories of senescence predict that the durability of somatic structures should relate to the length of reproductive life span. This prediction has recently been tested for red deer (Cervus elaphus): molariform teeth of males are smaller and less durable than those of females, which corresponds with sex differences in reproductive life span. However, general evidence that male teeth are smaller than expected by allometric rules as a consequence of sexual selection for increasing male body mass requires an interspecific comparison between dimorphic and nondimorphic ungulates. Here we investigate the relationship between cheek-teeth size (occlusal surface area; OSA) and body mass in 123 species of extant ungulates. We found lower slopes for dimorphic species compared with nondimorphic ones and smaller OSA, relative to body mass, in males of dimorphic species compared with females of dimorphic species. Rates of evolution of OSA relative to rates of evolution of body mass were greater in females than in males and also greater in nondimorphic than in dimorphic species. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that sexual selection in polygynous male ungulates favors body size more than tooth size, with possible consequences in male senescence via early depletion of male teeth compared to females.

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