CIE Spotlight: Sexual Size Dimorphism and Body Condition in the Australasian Gannet

Lauren A. and John A.
Lauren A. and John A.

Title: Sexual Size Dimorphism and Body Condition in the Australasian Gannet

Authors: Angel, Lauren P.; Wells, Melanie R.; Rodriguez-Malagon, Marlenne A.; Tew, Emma; Speakman, John R.; Arnould, John P. Y.

Source: PLOS ONE, 10 (12), DEC 4 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Sexual size dimorphism is widespread throughout seabird taxa and several drivers leading to its evolution have been hypothesised. While the Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) has previously been considered nominally monomorphic, recent studies have documented sexual segregation in diet and foraging areas, traits often associated with size dimorphism.

The present study investigated the sex differences in body mass and structural size of this species at two colonies (Pope’s Eye, PE; Point Danger, PD) in northern Bass Strait, south-eastern Australia. Females were found to be 3.1% and 7.3% heavier (2.74 ± 0.03, n = 92; 2.67 ± 0.03 kg, n = 43) than males (2.66 ± 0.03, n = 92; 2.48 ± 0.03 kg, n = 43) at PE and PD, respectively. Females were also larger in wing ulna length (0.8% both colonies) but smaller in bill depth (PE: 2.2%; PD: 1.7%) than males.

Despite this dimorphism, a discriminant function provided only mild accuracy in determining sex. A similar degree of dimorphism was also found within breeding pairs, however assortative mating was not apparent at either colony (R2 < 0.04). Using hydrogen isotope dilution, a body condition index was developed from morphometrics to estimate total body fat (TBF) stores, where TBF(%) = 24.43+1.94*(body mass/wing ulna length) – 0.58*tarsus length (r2 = 0.84, n = 15).

This index was used to estimate body composition in all sampled individuals. There was no significant difference in TBF(%) between the sexes for any stage of breeding or in any year of the study at either colony suggesting that, despite a greater body mass, females were not in a better condition than males.

While the driving mechanism for sexual dimorphism in this species is currently unknown, studies of other Sulids indicate segregation in foraging behaviour, habitat and diet may be a contributing factor.