Recognizing sexual dimorphism in the fossil record: lessons from nonavian dinosaurs
Jordan C. Mallon
The demonstration of sexual dimorphism in the fossil record can provide vital information about the role that sexual selection has played in the evolution of life. However, statistically robust inferences of sexual dimorphism in fossil organisms are exceedingly difficult to establish, owing to issues of sample size, experimental control, and methodology. This is particularly so in the case of dinosaurs, for which sexual dimorphism has been posited in many species, yet quantifiable data are often lacking. This study presents the first statistical investigation of sexual dimorphism across Dinosauria. It revisits prior analyses that purport to find quantitative evidence for sexual dimorphism in nine dinosaur species. After the available morphological data were subjected to a suite of statistical tests (normality and unimodality tests and mixture modeling), no evidence for sexual dimorphism was found in any of the examined taxa, contrary to conventional wisdom. This is not to say that dinosaurs were not sexually dimorphic (phylogenetic inference suggests they may well have been), only that the available evidence precludes its detection. A priori knowledge of the sexes would greatly facilitate the assessment of sexual dimorphism in the fossil record, and it is suggested that unambiguous indicators of sex (e.g., presence of eggs, embryos, medullary bone) be used to this end.
Featured image © Lida Xing.