Widespread male sex bias in mammal fossil and museum collections.

Academic Article


  • A recent study of mammoth subfossil remains has demonstrated the potential of using relatively low-coverage high-throughput DNA sequencing to genetically sex specimens, revealing a strong male-biased sex ratio [P. Pečnerová et al., Curr. Biol. 27, 3505-3510.e3 (2017)]. Similar patterns were predicted for steppe bison, based on their analogous female herd-based structure. We genetically sexed subfossil remains of 186 Holarctic bison (Bison spp.), and also 91 brown bears (Ursus arctos), which are not female herd-based, and found that ∼75% of both groups were male, very close to the ratio observed in mammoths (72%). This large deviation from a 1:1 ratio was unexpected, but we found no evidence for sex differences with respect to DNA preservation, sample age, material type, or overall spatial distribution. We further examined ratios of male and female specimens from 4 large museum mammal collections and found a strong male bias, observable in almost all mammalian orders. We suggest that, in mammals at least, 1) wider male geographic ranges can lead to considerably increased chances of detection in fossil studies, and 2) sexual dimorphic behavior or appearance can facilitate a considerable sex bias in fossil and modern collections, on a previously unacknowledged scale. This finding has major implications for a wide range of studies of fossil and museum material.
  • Authors

  • Gower, Graham
  • Fenderson, Lindsey
  • Salis, Alexander T
  • Helgen, Kristofer M
  • van Loenen, Ayla L
  • Heiniger, Holly
  • Hofman-Kamińska, Emilia
  • Kowalczyk, Rafał
  • Mitchell, Kieren J
  • Llamas, Bastien
  • Cooper, Alan
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • September 17, 2019
  • Keywords

  • Animals
  • Bison
  • DNA, Ancient
  • Female
  • Fossils
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Mammoths
  • Models, Genetic
  • Museums
  • Phylogeny
  • Sexism
  • Ursidae
  • ancient DNA
  • bison
  • brown bears
  • sex bias
  • sex ratio
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 19019
  • End Page

  • 19024
  • Volume

  • 116
  • Issue

  • 38