Extrinsic factors affecting cub development contribute to sexual size dimorphism in the European badger (Meles meles).
Sugianto NA., Newman C., Macdonald DW., Buesching CD.
Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) is common among mammals, with males typically being larger than females, as a product of sex-specific differences in growth rate and growth duration. The Musteloidea, however, exhibit a hypo-allometric reduction in SSD with increasing body size (contrary to Rensch's rule). A variety of extrinsic factors can affect juvenile growth rates and end body size, where one sex may demonstrate greater vulnerability than the other towards a specific factor, moderating patterns and degrees of SSD. Here, we analyse how male and female European badgers (Meles meles) differ in their somatic growth patterns. We compare the sex-specific growth curves across a range of somatic parameters and investigate what extrinsic (social and environmental) factors affect cub growth rates during the first 2 years of life leading to their sexual-dimorphic adult sizes. We found that average male final size of all measurements was significantly larger than those of females. Although male and female weanling cubs had similar body sizes, growth curves diverged significantly from ca. 11 months onwards due to continuous rapid growth of males versus slowing female growth. Consequently, females always concluded growth earlier than did males. In both sexes, extremities ceased to grow at an earlier age than did body length and zygomatic arch width. All badger cubs were impacted by their social environment as well as by weather conditions; however, male cubs were more sensitive to social factors, remaining smaller in social groups with more adult males present, whereas female final size was predominantly affected by weather and associated food availability. We discuss how extrinsic parameters can moderate patterns of SSD in the context of the differential equilibrium model.