Sexual selection is one of the earliest areas of interest in evolutionary biology. And yet, the evolutionary history of sexually dimorphic traits remains poorly characterized for most vertebrate lineages. Here, we report on evidence for the early evolution of dimorphism within a model mammal group, the pinnipeds. Pinnipeds show a range of sexual dimorphism and mating systems that span the extremes of modern mammals, from monomorphic taxa with isolated and dispersed mating to extreme size dimorphism with highly ordered polygynous harem systems. In addition, the degree of dimorphism in pinnipeds is closely tied to mating system, with strongly dimorphic taxa always exhibiting a polygynous system, and more monomorphic taxa possessing weakly polygynous systems. We perform a comparative morphological description, and provide evidence of extreme sexual dimorphism (similar to sea lions), in the Miocene-aged basal pinniped taxon Enaliarctos emlongi. Using a geometric morphometric approach and combining both modern and fossil taxa we show a close correlation between mating system and sex-related cranial dimorphism, and also reconstruct the ancestral mating system of extant pinnipeds as highly polygynous. The results suggest that sexual dimorphism and extreme polygyny in pinnipeds arose by 27 Ma, in association with changing climatic conditions.

, , , , , ,
Department of Earth Sciences

Cullen, T.M. (Thomas M.), Fraser, D. (Danielle), Rybczynski, N, & Schroder-Adams, C. (2014). Early evolution of sexual dimorphism and polygyny in pinnipedia. Evolution, 68(5), 1469–1484. doi:10.1111/evo.12360