, Volume 120, Issue 2, pp 258-267

Body size dimorphism and sexual segregation in polygynous ungulates: an experimental test with Soay sheep

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Sexual segregation in Soay sheep (Ovis aries) was investigated using an experimental approach in order to test the sexual dimorphism-body size hypothesis. Two corollaries of the sexual dimorphism-body size hypothesis were tested: (1) in dimorphic species males, the larger sex, have relatively smaller bite sizes on short swards because of the scaling of incisor arcade with body weight, and (2) they move off earlier to feed on taller but poorer-quality swards when such swards are patchily distributed on a scale which enables the spatial segregation of individuals. Patch choice between sexes was estimated using a matrix of grass patches which differed in both quality and biomass of grass on offer (HQ: high-quality-low-biomass; LQ: low-quality-high-biomass). Sex differences in patch choice and grazing behaviour were tested in short-term preference trials. Incisor breadth showed no significant difference between sexes. On the other hand, muzzle width was dimorphic, with females having a narrower muzzle than males. Bite size was significantly different between the sexes, being smaller in females than in males, although it was not significantly different between sward types. Females had a higher bite rate than males and the bite rate was higher in the HQ sward type than the LQ sward type. When the effect of body mass was removed, no sex differences in muzzle size, bite size or bite rate were found. The intake rate did not differ between the sexes or between sward types. Whilst both sexes preferred the HQ sward type, females spent a significantly longer time feeding on the LQ sward type than did males. The difference detected between the sexes in patch choice was not consistent directly with the sexual dimorphism-body size hypothesis. Alternative explanations based on sex differences in foraging behaviour in relation to body mass sexual dimorphism are discussed to explain the result.

Received: 1 February 1999 / Accepted: 12 May 1999