The evolution of sexual dimorphism in New Zealand giant moa (Dinornis) and other ratites

Valérie A. Olson, Samuel T. Turvey


The extinct giant moa Dinornis is one of the most remarkable known examples of reversed sexual size dimorphism (RSD), with males weighing 34–85 kg, but females weighing up to 240 kg. However, there has been little consideration of the evolutionary mechanism that produced this level of dimorphism, and most living palaeognaths also exhibit varying levels of RSD. Using male and female body mass data for extant ratites and tinamous and four extinct moa genera, and tests of phylogenetic dependence (λ) of body size evolution among these species, we investigated whether Dinornis was truly unusual with respect to RSD relative to other palaeognaths, which sex was under greater pressure to change in size over evolutionary time, and which candidate hypotheses explaining the presence and variability of RSD in the genus are most plausible. We demonstrate that the extreme level of RSD exhibited by Dinornis represents a straightforward consequence of positive allometric scaling of body size. However, Dinornis females have undergone more evolutionary change than males, and larger females from high-productivity environments are associated with greater differentiation, possibly driven by intraspecific competition and female-biased selection for increased offspring investment.

  • Received February 15, 2013.
  • Accepted March 18, 2013.
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