Relative growth, ontogeny, and sexual dimorphism in gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla and G. g. beringei): evolutionary and ecological considerations.

  • Taylor A
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Gorillas are the largest and among the most sexually dimorphic of all extant primates. While gorillas have been incorporated in broad-level comparisons among large-bodied hominoids or in studies of the African apes, comparisons between gorilla subspecies have been rare. During the past decade, however, behavioral, morphological, and molecular data from a number of studies have indicated that the western lowland (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and eastern mountain (Gorilla gorilla beringei) subspecies differ to a greater extent than has been previously believed. In this study I compare patterns of relative growth of the postcranial skeleton to evaluate whether differences between subspecies result from the differential extension of common patterns of relative growth. In addition, patterns of ontogeny and sexual dimorphism are also examined. Linear skeletal dimensions and skeletal weight were obtained for ontogenetic series of male and female G.g. gorilla (n = 315) and G.g. beringei (n = 38). Bivariate and multivariate methods of analysis were used to test for differences in patterns of relative growth, ontogeny, and sexual dimorphism between sexes of each subspecies and in same-sex comparisons between subspecies. Results indicate males and females of both subspecies are ontogenetically scaled for postcranial proportions and that females undergo an earlier skeletal growth spurt compared to males. However, results also indicate that the onset of the female growth spurt occurs at different dental stages in lowland and mountain gorillas and that mountain gorillas may be characterized by higher rates of growth. Finally, data demonstrate lowland and mountain gorilla females do not differ significantly in adult body size, but mountain gorilla males are significantly larger than lowland gorilla males, suggesting mountain gorillas are characterized by a higher degree of sexual dimorphism in body size. Thus, although lowland and mountain gorillas do not appear to have evolved novel adaptations of the postcranium which correlate with differences in locomotor behavior, the present investigation establishes subspecies differences in ontogeny and sexual dimorphism which may be linked with ecological variation. Specifically, these findings are evaluated in the context of risk aversion models which predict higher growth rates and increased levels of sexual dimorphism in extreme folivores.

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