Variation in mating systems and sexual size dimorphism between populations of the Australian python Morelia spilota (Serpentes : Pythonidae)

R. Shine*, M. Fitzgerald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although adaptationist hypotheses predict a functional relationship between mating systems and sexual size dimorphism, such predictions are difficult to test because of the high degree of phylogenetic conservatism in both of these traits. Taxa that show intraspecific variation in mating systems hence offer valuable opportunities for more direct tests of evolutionary-ecological hypotheses. Based on a collation of published and unpublished records, we document intraspecific geographic variation in mating systems (presence versus absence of male-male combat) within the widely-distributed Australian python Morelia spilota. Radiotelemetric monitoring of 19 free-ranging pythons in a population in north-eastern New South Wales showed that these animals display a mating system of female defence polygyny. Previous studies on a southern population of the same species found that males engaged in long mate-searching movements, showed no overt agonistic behavior, and formed long-term (>2 months) aggregations around reproductive females. In strong contrast, our adult male carpet pythons (i) moved about relatively little (mean displacement <11 m/day) during the mating season, (ii) remained with females only briefly (<5 days), and (iii) engaged in male-male combat in the vicinity of females. This male-male combat included vigorous biting as well as ritualised "wrestling" matches, resulting in a high incidence of bite scars in adult males. In keeping with predictions from sexual selection theory, males attain larger body sizes than females in this population, whereas females grow larger than males in the previously-studied southern population where males do not engage in physical combat for mating opportunities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490-498
Number of pages9
JournalOecologia
Volume103
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1995
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Geographic variation
  • Mating system
  • Pythonidae
  • Reptiles
  • Sexual dimorphism

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