Geosternbergia - Paleobiology - Sexual Variation

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Sexual Variation

Adult Geosternbergia specimens may be divided into two distinct size classes, small and large, with the large size class being about one and a half times larger than the small, and the small being twice as common as the large. Both size classes lived along side each other, and while researchers had previously suggested that they represent different species, Christopher Bennett showed that the differences between them are consistent with the concept that they represent females and males, and that Geosternbergia species were sexually dimorphic. Skulls from the larger size class preserve large, upward and backward pointing crests, while the crests of the smaller size class are small and triangular. Some larger skulls also show evidence of a second crest that extended long and low, toward the tip of the beak, which is not seen in smaller specimens.

The gender of the different size classes was determined, not from the skulls, but from the pelvic bones. Contrary to what may be expected, the smaller size class had disproportionately large and wide-set pelvic bones. Bennett interpreted this as indicating a more spacious birth canal, through which eggs would pass. He concluded that the small size class with small, triangular crests represent females, and the larger, large-crested specimens represent males.

Note that the overall size and crest size also corresponds to age. Immature specimens are known from both females and males, and immature males often have small crests similar to adult females. Therefore, it seems that the large crests only developed in males when they reached their large, adult size, making the gender of immature specimens difficult to establish from partial remains.

The fact that females appear to have outnumbered males two to one suggests that, as with modern animals with size-related sexual dimorphism, such as sea lions and other pinnipeds, Geosternbergia might have been polygynous, with a few males competing for association with groups consisting of large numbers of females. Similar to modern pinnipeds, Geosternbergia may have competed to establish territory on rocky, offshore rookeries, with the largest, and largest-crested, males gaining the most territory and having more success mating with females. The crests of male Geosternbergia would not have been used in competition, but rather as "visual dominance-rank symbols", with display rituals taking the place of physical competition with other males. If this hypothesis is correct, it also is likely that male Geosternbergia played little to no part in rearing the young; such a behavior is not found in the males of modern polygynous animals who father many offspring at the same time.

Read more about this topic:  Geosternbergia, Paleobiology