Evolution of sexual dimorphism in bill size and shape of hermit hummingbirds (Phaethornithinae): a role for ecological causation

Ethan J. Temeles, Jill S. Miller, Joanna L. Rifkin


Unambiguous examples of ecological causation of sexual dimorphism are rare, and the best evidence involves sexual differences in trophic morphology. We show that moderate female-biased sexual dimorphism in bill curvature is the ancestral condition in hermit hummingbirds (Phaethornithinae), and that it is greatly amplified in species such as Glaucis hirsutus and Phaethornis guy, where bills of females are 60 per cent more curved than bills of males. In contrast, bill curvature dimorphism is lost or reduced in a lineage of short-billed hermit species and in specialist Eutoxeres sicklebill hermits. In the hermits, males tend to be larger than females in the majority of species, although size dimorphism is typically small. Consistent with earlier studies of hummingbird feeding performance, both raw regressions of traits and phylogenetic independent contrasts supported the prediction that dimorphism in bill curvature of hermits is associated with longer bills. Some evidence indicates that differences between sexes of hermit hummingbirds are associated with differences in the use of food plants. We suggest that some hermit hummingbirds provide model organisms for studies of ecological causation of sexual dimorphism because their sexual dimorphism in bill curvature provides a diagnostic clue for the food plants that need to be monitored for studies of sexual differences in resource use.


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