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Evolution. 2000 Aug;54(4):1404-13.

Sexual size dimorphism in shorebirds, gulls, and alcids: the influence of sexual and natural selection.

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Centre for Behavioural Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, United Kingdom.


Charadrii (shorebirds, gulls, and alcids) have an unusual diversity in their sexual size dimorphism, ranging from monomorphism to either male-biased or female-biased dimorphism. We use comparative analyses to investigate whether this variation relates to sexual selection through competition for mates or natural selection through different use of resources by males and females. As predicted by sexual selection theory, we found that in taxa with socially polygynous mating systems, males were relatively larger than females compared with less polygynous species. Furthermore, evolution toward socially polyandrous mating systems was correlated with decreases in relative male size. These patterns depend on the kinds of courtship displays performed by males. In taxa with acrobatic flight displays, males are relatively smaller than in taxa in which courtship involves simple flights or displays from the ground. This result remains significant when the relationship with mating system is controlled statistically, thereby explaining the enigma of why males are often smaller than females in socially monogamous species. We did not find evidence that evolutionary changes in sexual dimorphism relate to niche division on the breeding grounds. In particular, biparental species did not have greater dimorphism in bill lengths than uniparental species, contrary to the hypothesis that selection for ecological divergence on the breeding grounds has been important as a general explanation for patterns of bill dimorphism. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that sexual selection has had a major influence on sexual size dimorphism in Charadrii, whereas divergence in the use of feeding resources while breeding was not supported by our analyses.

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