Sexual dimorphism in the feeding mechanism of threespine stickleback

Matthew D. McGee, Peter C Wainwright

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42 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual dimorphism is common in nature and has the potential to increase intraspecific variation in performance and patterns of resource use. We sought to determine whether anadromous threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, exhibit sexual dimorphism in feeding kinematics. We filmed four males and four females consuming live prey in a total of 51 sequences filmed at 500?Hz, then tested for differences in cranial kinematics using a combination of principal component analysis and linear mixed models. We document, for the first time in fishes, divergence between males and females in both the timing of key movements and the magnitude of excursions reached by the hyoid, jaws and neurocranium during prey capture. Some of the largest differences are in jaw protrusion, with males exhibiting faster time to peak jaw protrusion but females exhibiting greater maximum jaw protrusion. Measurements of morphological jaw protrusion on cleared and stained specimens significantly predict jaw protrusion in kinematics. This morphological divergence could reflect ecological divergence between the sexes, or the demands of nest building and territory defense compromising male feeding performance. Remarkably, the morphological jaw protrusion divergence in anadromous males and females is similar to jaw protrusion divergence between ecomorphs in a benthic-limnetic species pair, with limnetics exhibiting female-like patterns of protrusion and benthics exhibiting male-like patterns. These results suggest that sexual dimorphism in feeding functional morphology exists in nature and may have played an important role in the radiation of threespine stickleback. © 2013. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-840
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Jaw protrusion
  • Suction feeding

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