Sexual Dimorphism and Inter-generic Variation in Proboscidean Tusks: Multivariate Assessment of American Mastodons (Mammut americanum) and Extant African Elephants

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Journal of Mammalian Evolution




Characteristics of social structure, mating strategies, and parental investment can be inferred for mammalian species based on degree of sexual dimorphism, especially when males are substantially larger than females. American mastodons (Mammut americanum) and extant African elephants (Loxodonta africana, Loxodonta cyclotis) both exhibit marked dimorphism in tusk size. To evaluate the hypothesis that this dimorphism might be indicative of similar, and possibly conserved, behavioral patterns in each lineage, we undertook a detailed evaluation of the pattern of tusk growth in these two genera. Separate discriminant function analyses (DFA) of 21 adult mastodon tusks of inferred sex and 48 adult elephant tusks of known sex show that patterns of ontogenetic change in tusk circumference, regardless of genus, effectively discriminate between sexes. Canonical variates analysis (CVA) of tusks from male and female mastodons and male and female elephants shows that male tusks in both genera are larger than female tusks across all measurements, especially for maximum tusk circumference and pulp cavity depth. CVA’s emphasis of inter-group differences in tusk morphology also shows that mastodon tusks are more robust than elephant tusks. Overall, this study illustrates that there is a characteristic male and a characteristic female tusk form shared by elephants and mastodons. This shows that elephants and mastodons display a shared syndrome of traits beyond sex-linked differences in tusk size, supporting the hypothesis that mastodons exhibited behaviors similar to those we observe today in African elephants.