Body size and growth rate are among the most important traits characterizing an organism, influencing niche occupancy, life-history patterns, mortality rates, and many other fitness components. Sexual size dimorphism is common among animals; in most species females are on average larger than males. In contrast, male mammals are usually larger on average than females of the same species, and the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) may be one of the rare species of mammal in which females are generally larger than males. Nevertheless, some have argued that the evidence is equivocal regarding this reversal. This disagreement may reflect differences in traits measured, methods used, or ontogenetic differences among individuals sampled for these studies. We quantified size at various points during ontogeny in 651 individuals, the largest sample used in size analyses of spotted hyenas to date. We measured 14 morphological traits as well as 4 linear combinations of the traits that provide multivariate estimates of size; these were used to examine growth patterns among males and females measured in a free-living population in Kenya. We demonstrate that female spotted hyenas are larger than males for most, but not all traits, and that females are larger because they grow faster, rather than exhibiting a prolonged period of growth. Early in life males and females appear to grow similarly, but between weaning and reproductive maturity their multivariate ontogenetic trajectories diverge. Traits that mature before divergence of these ontogenetic trajectories are monomorphic, whereas traits that mature later are dimorphic. Furthermore, dimorphism is generally greatest in traits that cease development latest. We propose that later-maturing traits are more dimorphic because of a systemic increase in female growth rates during adolescence that persists through morphological maturity, which varies among traits. We also assess body-size data obtained from captive hyenas to show that adult female hyenas are larger than adult males for some traits even when they are fed identical diets throughout development, allowing us to rule out a strictly environmental explanation for this dimorphism.
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