Can diet niche partitioning enhance sexual dimorphism?



Bauld JT, Abernethy KA, Newton J, Lehmann D, Jones IL & Bussière LF (2022) Can diet niche partitioning enhance sexual dimorphism?. Ecology and Evolution, 12 (12), Art. No.: e9599.

Classic evolutionary theory suggests that sexual dimorphism evolves primarily via sexual and fecundity selection. However, theory and evidence are beginning to accumulate suggesting that resource competition can drive the evolution of sexual dimorphism, via ecological character displacement between sexes. A key prediction of this hypothesis is that the extent of ecological divergence between sexes will be associated with the extent of sexual dimorphism. As the stable isotope ratios of animal tissues provide a quantitative measure of various aspects of ecology, we carried out a meta-analysis examining associations between the extent of isotopic divergence between sexes and the extent of body size dimorphism. Our models demonstrate that large amounts of between-study variation in isotopic (ecological) divergence between sexes is nonrandom and may be associated with the traits of study subjects. We, therefore, completed meta-regressions to examine whether the extent of isotopic divergence between sexes is associated with the extent of sexual size dimorphism. We found modest but significantly positive associations across species between size dimorphism and ecological differences between sexes, that increased in strength when the ecological opportunity for dietary divergence between sexes was greatest. Our results, therefore, provide further evidence that ecologically mediated selection, not directly related to reproduction, can contribute to the evolution of sexual dimorphism.

disruptive selection; ecological character displacement; evolution; resource competition; sexual dimorphism; sexual selection

Ecology and Evolution: Volume 12, Issue 12

FundersNatural Environment Research Council and UK Research and Innovation
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online18/12/2022
Date accepted by journal20/11/2022

People (2)


Professor Katharine Abernethy

Professor Katharine Abernethy

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Dr Isabel Jones

Dr Isabel Jones

Senior Research Fellow, Biological and Environmental Sciences